When Kirk and Stacy DeWitt received a foster child placement in 2013 after a year of applying to be foster parents, they were shocked when the first child came to their home with no belongings whatsoever. With broken hearts, they asked themselves what they could do to help others like this child who carried nothing while transitioning from one placement to another.
After nine months and $100,000 of fundraising from their congregants at Conejo Church, where Kirk is pastor, James Storehouse opened its first warehouse in 2014 in Newbury Park. In just seven years, the nonprofit has become a well-known pillar in the community. Last year alone, James Storehouse helped provide resources for 8,778 foster families in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties — an average of 732 children per month.
“We see many grandmothers and even great-grandmothers on a fixed income who are very nervous about taking on grandchildren due to the cost,” says Stacy, who is now the organization’s executive director. “This is where James Storehouse comes in. We try to enable families to stay together by taking the weight off their shoulders in providing these much-needed resources.”
When a child enters the foster care system, social workers often first seek a relative, a known neighbor or a close family friend for placement, to reduce the child’s trauma. But that placement often comes at a prohibitive cost to the would-be foster parent. A social worker cannot place a child with a family until the proper supplies are in place. Items as simple as diapers, extra clothing, or a bed can make the difference between a child being placed or continuing to be displaced.
The name “James Storehouse” is inspired by the Bible verse found in James 1:27, which states in part, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress … “ (NIV). Stacy and Kirk discovered that hundreds of families were willing to step up and take a foster child placement if they had the resources and support to help them with these transitions.
James Storehouse’s rapid success has been a direct result of strong community support — which is allowing it to tackle bigger needs as well. Last year, the nonprofit helped furnish and set up 31 apartments for families escaping domestic abuse, for teens aging out of the system, and for mothers removing their children from desperate situations.
James Storehouse has also expanded beyond a warehouse to three “boutiques,” a new resource center complete with a trauma-informed, sensory-integrated playroom to help ease families’ wait for a court hearing, and a transitional housing project. With a social worker’s referral, foster parents can take advantage of everything in this holistic healing environment – “shopping” at the three boutiques for needed items for their child placements, with clothes ranging from size preemie to 4XL; waiting for a court hearing in the beautiful playroom; or working with child life specialists so children who experienced trauma feel safe.
Their most recent effort, the transitional house project, addresses one of the greatest needs for aging foster children: safe housing and mentorship. James Storehouse has worked closely with Ventura County to begin a supervised independent living program to help otherwise at-risk teenagers. According to the James Storehouse website, about 20 percent of teenagers who age out of the foster care system will become instantly homeless and may have only a 3 percent chance of earning a college degree. James Storehouse offers mentorship classes to help these at-risk teenagers go to college, pursue viable careers and transition successfully into independent living.
Stacy says their wish list of needed items includes diapers (even half-opened packages), wipes, car seats, clothing from preemie to adult sizes, school supplies and holiday gifts for annual celebrations such as Easter.
“For many foster children who have never received gifts like this, these go a long way toward reinforcing that these kids are worthy of being celebrated,” she says.
James Storehouse always needs small household items, especially for kitchen and bathroom areas. Every gift helps them to heal and restore families by breaking the cycle of poverty through empowerment.
That has been the goal from the beginning.
Captions for pictures
1) Celebrating an important milestone: Due to COVID shutdowns for high school graduation ceremonies, foster youth Johnny Gutierrez had no one to celebrate this important milestone with him. James Storehouse invited the community to a drive-thru graduation party at their facility in honor of Johnny’s accomplishments. In this picture is Johnny and two James Storehouse staff members, Stacy DeWitt and Jessi Bierling.
2) Foster care prevention: “A young mom without access to essential resources was referred to us by her county social worker,” Stacy says. “The tiny, four-lb. preemie baby girl filled our front office with more joy than we could bear!”3) Showering mothers with love: A group baby shower for 22 pregnant teens in foster care who lacked support and mentorship was held at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village. James Storehouse and church members provided a crib, car seat, clothing, diapers, diaper bag, clothing and other essentials for every mom-to-be. The shower also provided an opportunity for natural mentoring relationships to develop between the teen moms and volunteers. One 16-year-old mom brought her three-day-old newborn to the shower. The mom was exhausted and frustrated with her newborn’s needs. A volunteer showed the young mom how to patiently change her baby’s diaper, showed her umbilical cord care, and how to distinguish the different cries that her newborn was making.