WALKER -- Back in December, Shayna Landry looked at the Foster Village and called it “a hot mess.”
Boxes were stacked on top of each other, clothes and toiletries were scattered everywhere, and people bustled from room to room trying to find some sort of organizational pattern to “all the madness.”
But steadily, this group of dedicated volunteers — and many more — chipped away.
And more than five months after Landry called it “a hot mess” — and more than a year after she partnered with Amy LeJeune to open a “one-stop shop” for foster families in need — things look quite different.
Now, the real work begins.
The Foster Village, a donation center that aims to equip local foster families with gently used/new items and necessities free of charge, officially celebrated its opening with a ribbon-cutting on Saturday, May 18.
Located on the grounds of Judson Baptist Church in Walker, the donation center invites foster parents to take items they may need or exchange ones they no longer use. The village also offers 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.
It was a dream more than a year in the making for Landry and LeJeune, who met over Facebook before discussing their goals during a three-hour phone call later that day. It was a day neither thought would actually come, but after much work from them and others, it finally has.
“It looks totally different now, huh?” Landry asked with a laugh, recalling that day back in December.
It sure does.
During the ceremony, Landry and LeJeune took visitors on tours of the Foster Village, which is divided into three main areas: the front sitting room, the sorting room, and the fitting room.
Donated items are first brought to the sorting room, where “three sets of eyes” look over everything before sorting items into specific crates, Landry said. Along with racks and bins of clothes, handmade blankets, strollers, bedding, and crib sheets are also kept in the room, ready to be handed out as needed.
In the back of the sorting room is the hygiene closet, where children’s toiletries such as diapers, baby wipes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo and soap, and other items are kept.
One room over is the fitting room, where foster parents can bring their children to try on clothes that are sorted in crates adorned with “little hearts” from people who have adopted them for $25 each. The crates are divided between tops and bottoms as well as different ages. There is also a play area for kids filled with games, books, movies and toys.
Landry and LeJeune relayed all this information to guests as they toured the Foster Village, which also utilizes a “check-out” system for foster parents to reserve items for their children “if they need something quick.”
During the ceremony, Landry and LeJeune, two local foster mothers, thanked everyone for their support in the endeavor. The two said they never applied for a grant for the Foster Village, with “everything coming from the community.”
Several churches volunteered on monthly work days, Healing Place Church purchased everything on a wish list, volunteers painted the building and added a new roof, and another was scheduled to redo the bathroom.
“The idea of today is to celebrate everyone who had a hand in this,” LeJeune said during the ribbon-cutting. “Every time we asked for something, the community came through.”
A few dozen people attended the ceremony, including one foster mother from Walker who brought her three foster children along.
The foster mother described it as a grim scene she found the children in, with the house “full of drugs and needles.” The children came to live with their foster mother in October, but the mother said she had to quit her job to raise the young children, so now money is tight.
“We were down to our last diaper,” she recalled.
She then went to the Foster Village to see if she could find items for her foster children, and “they had everything” — clothes, diapers, shoes, toys, and whatever else she needed. She now volunteers regularly at the Foster Village, hoping to repay the kindness she said she was shown.
“All you have to do is call [the Foster Village], and they’ll have everything ready,” she said. “They’ll give you stuff for everything you could possibly need.
“I don’t know what we’ would’ve done without them. They’re lifesavers.”