WALKER -- When Amy LeJeune first met Shayna Landry, it was like meeting an old friend.
It began with a Facebook message, followed by a three-hour phone call later that same day.
During the long chat, LeJeune and Landry — two foster mothers from Livingston Parish — discussed their dreams of opening a local donation center so foster families would have a one-stop shop for all their needs.
Both were already running similar operations out of their homes, which were cluttered with donated items they’d collected for months, and each knew a bigger storage unit was needed for things to grow.
But the conversation didn’t stop there.
They talked about their plans on the phone the next day, again the following day, and every day after that for a week before finally meeting in person one afternoon at the Knock Knock Children’s Museum in Baton Rouge.
As their children played a few feet away, LeJeune and Landry were busy making plans and phone calls, going over all the ways they could turn this shared dream of a donation center into a reality.
Though this introductory meeting didn’t answer all of their questions, the two realized one thing: They had found the perfect partner for this endeavor.
“We let the kids play, and we just got to know each other, and our friendship blossomed from there,” LeJeune said. “We put all our ideas and dreams on paper and started figuring out who could we reach out to to get to the next step.”
That next step has arrived.
The two fast friends, who didn’t know the other existed a month ago, recently partnered with Judson Baptist Church in Walker to open the Foster Village, a donation center that aims to equip local foster families with gently used/new items and necessities free of charge.
The Foster Village is located next to the church on Walker Road and is open to anyone with foster children.
At the donation center, foster parents can take items they may need or exchange ones they no longer have use for. The village will also offer pre-packed welcome bags filled with clothes, toiletries, toys and other children’s goods, as well as larger items like cribs, twin-size bedding, strollers, swings and infant tubs.
Word has spread quickly since the operation took off: In its first official week, the Foster Village accepted three carloads of donations and sent out welcome bags to eight foster children in need, and its founders have been invited to speak at several local organizations.
“It’s been exciting to see where this is going,” said Landry, the mother of two adopted children. “In the first week, we’ve already given away eight bags for eight foster kids, and we’re not even open yet. We still have people calling and asking us to help, so it’s nice that before this is even officially set up, we’re already making a difference.”
More than a month after their first phone call, LeJeune and Landry both stood in the front room of their new donation center, which occupies a small building that sat mostly vacant in recent years.
While LeJeune’s foster children played in the next room, LeJeune and Landry were once again discussing their plans, plans that started out of their homes but have since grown into the real world.
Landry began collecting and donating items after the Great Flood of 2016, first to flood victims before eventually shifting her focus to foster families in need. For months, Landry slowly filled her spare bedroom until it got “overwhelming” and she needed more storage space.
LeJeune’s journey began more than a year later, when she became a certified foster mother and realized she didn’t have the essentials for her infant foster child. Understanding that others could face a similar predicament, LeJeune created a Facebook share page — FosterShare (Louisiana, Region 3) — in which foster families could swap items with each other.
“We were both doing it out of our homes and didn’t know each other,” Landry said. “We were doing it at the same time but had no idea that the other person existed. Finally, another foster mom who knew both of us said, ‘You two need to meet because y’all are the same person.’”
The two met, first on the phone and then on a playdate with the kids. By the time they left the Knock Knock Museum, their friendship — and the Foster Village — was established.
“It’s basically Amy’s vision for the Facebook Share page,” Landry said, “just here in a central location.”
Through the Foster Village, LeJeune and Landry also hope to raise general awareness of foster care and adoption, especially since Livingston Parish is part of the region with the state’s highest number of foster children.
Livingston Parish is under the umbrella of Region 3 of Louisiana (Covington), which also serves the St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes.
According to information provided by LeJeune and Landry, there were 853 open foster care cases in the Covington region as of March 2 — roughly 19 percent of the state’s total open cases (4,460) and 273 more than the second-highest region (Shreveport, 579).
But that number is steadily growing, LeJeune and Landry said, and in some cases, children are being directed toward other regions in the state due to a lack of foster families.
“These kids are not only losing their homes and parents, they’re losing their siblings because they’re having to be split up,” LeJeune said. “They’re losing their schools and everything they know. We’re in absolute desperate need for foster homes.”
Other troubles befall foster children apart from the obvious ones, LeJeune and Landry have repeatedly told people when making presentations. Some of the statistics they shared include:
- One in three foster children can’t read at their grade level
- 43 percent don’t graduate from high school or obtain a G.E.D.
- More than half are unemployed within three years of leaving foster care
- 30 percent of boys will be arrested by their 19th birthday
- Girls are 2.5 times as likely to get pregnant by 19
- Foster kids experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at twice the rate of U.S. military veterans
“Whenever we get kids, we automatically know they’ve been through something traumatic,” LeJeune said. “Something has happened in their life to get them to your home.
“Even though it might be easy to go to the store and buy some of these things, you’re gonna be running around and wasting time instead of spending time comforting these kids and getting to know them, because you’re still a stranger.
“That’s the entire point of the Foster Village — we want a central location for families to get stuff so they can spend more time with their foster kids.”
Here are ways you can donate to The Foster Village (TFV), located at 32470 Walker Road North
- Offer to have a TFV donation bin at your business
- Donate pre-packed welcome & diaper bags
- Tax deductible monetary donations can be processed through Judson Baptist church and assigned to “The Foster Village”
- Make blankets for children
- Donate labor (painting, carpentry and handyman skills needed) and time (sorting, cleaning, organizing)
- Raise awareness of the need for more foster parents
- Visit “The Foster Village” Facebook page