Heather Wing, MSW‘04, brought home her first foster child in 2017, the same year the Michigan Foster Care Closet opened its doors. She’d heard about the resource from other foster parents, but couldn’t anticipate the way it would impact her life.
“I was amazed at the support and the goods, the clothing, the equipment that they were able to provide us as a new foster family,” Wing remembers.
Now located in an expanded Ann Arbor location, the Michigan Foster Care Closet (MFCC) provides clothing, toys, school supplies, and other necessary care items for children and youth in care across the state. Foster parents receive a small stipend, but this doesn’t cover everything a child needs, especially diapers or specialty items — whether it’s a dual stroller for siblings or a walker for a child with special needs.
Children and youth in care can go to MFCC up to four times per year to choose a week’s worth of clothing — seven pants, seven shirts, and two pairs of shoes — as well as, based on their age, a few toys, books, school supplies, and anything else they may need that MFCC can provide.
But clothing and other necessities aren’t the only things MFCC offers foster families. It’s also a community of people who have experienced the unique challenges of being a foster parent.
“I found that the [Michigan Foster Care Closet] provided support in a way that no other organization supported us as foster parents,” Wing says. “When you come in here, everyone understands what you’re going through.”
A graduate of the school of social work, Wing found her degree invaluable in helping her navigate the complexities of the foster care system and a deeper appreciation of the “hard work” that goes into child advocacy. After years of fostering children in care and adopting her own, Wing still wanted to help the community and support the organization that “had been so valuable” to her. Today, she serves as the vice president of the Michigan Foster Care Closet’s board of directors.
“In my experience, the kids are the easiest part of foster care. It’s so easy to love them and care for them. The challenge has always been the bureaucracy, the red tape . . . we try to take the red tape out of caring for kids. We want this to be as easy and as accessible as possible,” Wing says.
The Michigan Foster Care Closet is completely volunteer-run and survives on tangible and financial donations to support over 100 children and youth in care monthly. Locally, businesses host drives, volunteer groups offer support, and the closet accepts donations on the second Saturday of each month.
“Children and youth in care have had so much taken away from them in a short amount of time. It is incredibly empowering and supportive to be able to give them a little bit of choice back,” Wing says. “If they’re able to pick out clothing they like that’s in good condition, it gives them a sense of control in a very chaotic time in their life.”
If you’d like to support the Michigan Foster Care Closet, visit their website.
Katherine Fiorillo is the editor of Michigan Alum.