With the 2017-18 school year starting in less than a month, one mother is getting not only her own children ready but also others.
Arminda Rifflard is a stay-at-home mother of five, including two adopted children. She and her husband, Johnny, became foster parents in 2011. In 2014, a trip to the store sparked an idea and a calling to fulfill a need.
“My husband and I were talking after seeing school supplies already in the stores about how hard it must be for some foster families to shop for all of the needs of their placements,” Rifflard said.
From that idea, a school-supplies drive for foster children in Union County was born.
Nicholas Digel, Union County Department of Job and Family Services prevention/placement supervisor, said Union County currently has 29 foster children ready to enter school.
Digel said the supplies Rifflard collects would go to children currently involved with the Union County Children Services Department, with the majority going to children in the temporary custody of UCCS.
Rifflard said she is thrilled to be able to help.
“People blow me away when they show up at my door with bags of supplies,” she said. “We even have had a few people bring backpacks already full of everything on a school list, including lunchboxes. It's really amazing.”
“(This is) strictly an estimate, (but) I would state that in the past few years, Arminda’s group has assisted in providing school supplies to 30 or more children a year since they started collecting these supplies,” Digel said.
The Union County system provides clothes children and other personal belongings that might help a child with the separation from their family, according to Digel.
“If the family cannot provide adequate clothing. Our agency will provide a clothing allowance to the foster parent,” Digel said.
Rifflard homeschools her own children and works within her homeschool group, Homeschooling In Marysville, to collect the donations for foster children. She also posts on social media to help collect supplies.
When she started her efforts, she executed the drive on her own.
“So far I have had people drop the items off at my home,” she said. “Last year, I kept a large tote on my porch so people could drop things off at their convenience. Our homeschool group also meets at a different park every Wednesday in the summer, so I will send out a reminder the day before that I will be at the park at a certain time if someone wants to bring their donations that day.”
Rifflard said the agency wants the donations brought in at least a week and a half or so before school starts so foster families have time to get the supplies they need.
“My children and sometimes a friend will help me get everything to the agency,” she said. “The caseworkers all come to help carry it all in. Some of them have been pretty emotional when they see everything.”
Caseworkers take over from there in organizing the supplies and notifying foster families, she said.
This year, the drive is just getting started, but Rifflard said it has grown every year.
“The last three years, we have seen an increase each year in the amount of donations we receive,” Rifflard said.
Rifflard said two adoptions in one year has led to the decision to let their foster-parent license expire this fall. But she and her husband intend to continue the school-supplies drive each summer.
“Foster care has my heart, and so do the families that open their homes to these precious children,” Rifflard said.
Those interested in making donations should email Rifflard at email@example.com.