Send Relief backpacking day could have lasting impact on foster care

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ASHLAND, Ky. (KT) – While packing out 125 backpacks for foster children will make an impact, Rob Allen says the best is yet to come.


Allen, the director of the Send Relief Appalachia Ministry Center in Ashland, said the awareness made and relationships forged through the backpacking event on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day will have a lasting embrace for foster care in northeastern Kentucky.


“This is not about doing this at a high level of speed, pushing out a lot of backpacks, but it’s about modeling something a church could very easily do to help foster care agencies in their area,” Allen said.


Two northeastern Kentucky foster care agencies, NECCO of Grayson and the Ramey-Estep Home of Cannonsburg, had representatives on hand to talk about foster care. Churches are invited and needed to come alongside them, Allen said.


“This is something that in six months could be a great story,” he said. “We made some good connections today.”


The North American Mission Board's Send Relief ministry centers in Ashland, Clarkston, Ga., Pittsburgh and at five locations around Puerto Rico played host to an MLK Day of Service on Monday. The primary job was to collect gently used children’s clothing for children placed in foster care.


The Puerto Rico locations collected food and clothing for residents still reeling from earthquakes and from Hurricane Maria in 2017.


Nearly 200 gathered in Ashland on Monday to pack 125 backpacks. They came from churches in the immediate area but also from as far away as West Ripley, W.Va., and Graefenburg, Ky., both around a two-hour drive.


First Baptist churches from Louisa, Grayson and Russell were among nine churches represented, Allen said.


“Friday morning, I had 34 people registered,” he said. “I worked the phone like crazy.”


He reached out specifically to churches who were already doing some foster care work. But others learned about specific needs from foster care representatives who shared.


“What we were trying to do with this event is pack these items to give to foster care but, more importantly that that, was forging some relationships and figuring out how to partner local churches with foster care agencies so they could love on them and learn how to help them,” Allen said.


Josh Schmidt, the pastor of Grayson FBC, already has a meeting set up with a NECCO representative and will be talking with his deacons about opening up the church facility to NECCO for meetings and possibly developing a bigger partnership with them, Allen said.


The event lasted about three hours including allowing the foster care agencies to tell the group about their needs, Allen said. Packing the backpacks took only a couple of hours. They were set up by age range and items packed included socks, pants, shirts and some shoes. The idea is that the child will have a good start and the foster parents won't immediately have to find or purchase clothes.


Many times the children coming into foster care have only a trash bag with several items of clothing with them.


“This is to help restore dignity and love on these kids,” Allen said. “It was such a great day.”

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