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Backpack Basics

Backpack Basics

Jamie Russel (left) and Amanda Adrian
Co-founders of #BeThatFamily

#BeThatFamily equips foster kids, families with necessities

On Nov. 18, thousands of foster children will be adopted by their forever families on National Adoption Day, celebrated annually the Saturday before Thanksgiving. According to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, 4,600 foster children were adopted during the national celebration in 2016.

In Brevard County, the foster child statistics are humbling. At publication, there were 141 licensed foster homes in Brevard and 280 children in need of out-of-home care, according to Brevard Family Partnership. Children most in need of homes are teenagers and siblings.

A local nonprofit initiative is working to ease the transition to new homes for foster children and foster families. #BeThatFamily started just before the holidays in 2015, a few months after founders Jamie and William Russell started fostering children in their home.

“We saw that many times the kids in the foster system will arrive with all of their belongings in a trash bag,” Russell said. “We wanted to change that.”

They started collecting basics to fill age-targeted backpacks. Baby backpacks include diapers; toddler backpacks have a toy and book. Young ‘tween and teen girls receive new undergarments and hygiene products.

“These kids show up and through no fault of their own, they don’t have what they need. Sometimes it’s too late to run to the store for things like diapers or underwear,” Jamie Russell said.

As donations grew, #BeThatFamily became an official outreach service of the 501© nonprofit organization Space Coast Foster and Adoptive Families Alliance and operates completely through volunteers and donations.

In the nearly two years since she started raising awareness, Jamie Russell says #BeThatFamily has donated 400 backpacks locally.

“People love to help. You just have to ask for what is needed,” she said.

All of the donated items, including backpacks, are sorted and assembled at a storage unit. From there, some are given to the Brevard Family Partnership, the county’s foster parent licensing agency. Others go to the Department of Children and Families, and others are stored at the Brevard County Courthouse in Viera and given to children immediately following court proceedings.

“Children are required by law to attend the first court hearing regarding their welfare. We have a room in back of the courtroom that the children are able to visit and pick out their backpack. Something so small, such as a backpack with a blanket, snacks and other personal items makes a difference and provides comfort to our kids,” said Regina Adair, a Brevard County court liaison.

West Melbourne Police Department is an official donation drop-off location for those wishing to contribute.

Equipping foster kids with necessities is a start — but Jamie Russell’s passion lies in reaching families with the big-picture message of fostering. She holds meetings at her home for families interested in learning about obtaining a foster care license.

“We have a great need in Brevard. I want to share my story if it inspires others,” Russell said.

Learn more about #BeThatFamily and how to contribute by visiting Facebook.com/bethatfamily or emailing Bethatfamily@gmail.com.

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