(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
Tennessee Cares for Kids got its start a year ago in Columbia, and provides immediate clothing, personal and school supply needs of children entering foster care.
Then known as Maury County Cares for Kids, the group had long-range plans in place to grow the ministry into other counties over a period of time.
But the immediate need for their services intervened.
"Between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15 of 2011, we were contacted by five different counties, all wanting us to come their communities," said Sandra Sampler, founder and executive director.
In the year ending June 2011, the state's Department of Children's Services reported the number of children entering foster care due to dependency and neglect in Bedford County had increased 254 percent -- from 11 in 2010 to 28 in 2011. DCS also reports the severity of cases which result in placing children in state custody has also increased.
In Maury County the organization began in a donated storage unit and quickly grew into a storefront on Nashville Highway.
The Our Kids Consignment and Resale store helps fund the organization's primary mission to provide one week's clothing, including school uniforms, duffel bags, backpacks and school supplies, free of charge to children entering foster care. The organization coordinates with DCS and other community agencies to identify and assist children in need.
The growth into Bedford County came, in part, due to a relationship with another child-focused agency, Homes of Hope of Bedford County, which serves as a faith-based foster care alternative to DCS.
Members of the Bedford County Community Advisory Board, Sue Fletcher with the Family Development Center, the Department of Children's Services and the leadership of the Bedford County Foster Parent Association have also been essential in getting TC4K its start.
Last year Edgemont Baptist Church, its members as well as members of the community had gathered clothing, shoes, furniture and other items to deliver to needy families in the Appalachian mountains. Some restraints at the receiving end of the donation made delivery impossible, Sampler said.
Those donations have now become the seeds of TC4K in Bedford County.
All donations made to the Bedford Cares for Kids chapter, stay in the county and are used to benefit local children.
Sampler is counting on community support to continue the mission.
"The response from the community is always amazing to me," Sampler said. "While we are just getting started in Bedford County, we have been in Maury County since February of 2011.
"Once the word is out, and people realize the impact they can have on helping their community's abused, abandoned and neglected children, they respond generously with their time, clothing items and financial support. We do not anticipate the response from Bedford County to be any less."
The organization has stored donations to date in a storage unit, but hopes to expand to a local storefront.
"First and foremost, we need a location that is safe to be accessed at all hours of the day night by both adults and children," Sampler said.
Volunteers are also needed to help set up and operate the facility. All volunteers must complete an application, participate in an interview, provide references, have a background check (including fingerprints) performed and complete an eight-hour training course.
The training is designed to familiarize the volunteer with child abuse, its impact and appropriate ways to interact with children who have been the victims of abuse, neglect or abandonment.
Donations needed are new or gently used clothing, shoes and backpacks which will be distributed to the children.
A 501(c)3 non-profit organization, all donations are tax deductible. "All donations of money, clothing or other items stay here in Bedford County to help children from this community," said Sampler.
Those interested in helping the ministry get its start by being a member of the site coordination team, to volunteer, to serve as a drop-off collection site or to donate money or clothing can contact Sampler at (931) 922-3092 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A website for Bedford County is being constructed, but interested parties may visit the Maury County sister site at www.mcc4k.org for more background information.