When Julie and Kevin Hanford started an Orphan Care Ministry at Cascade Church, Monroe, Washington, in December 2014, they knew it wasn’t all they were going to do. Pastor Nate Hettinga and his wife Amy were very open to the idea of also starting a clothing closet. At the time, Julie wasn’t sure how God would open those doors, but on April 26 he did.
Many times when foster children are placed with families they arrive with nothing or their clothing is stained and smells of cigarette smoke or other drugs. Julie, a foster/adoptive parent, has firsthand experience and understands the need these families have.
“When children are initially placed in your home, there are so many things that have to happen immediately, such as doctor’s appointments, biological family visits and various screenings,” she said. “Many children have been removed abruptly from their home, and their items have been confiscated by police for evidence.”
As Julie and Kevin opened up their home and first became foster parents, they were blessed by organizations like Treehouse and Sibling House, located in Seattle and Kirkland, Washington. These organizations allow families to shop for free for items such as clothing, books, toys and furniture. A local clothing closet moved locations, so Julie collected things the store couldn't take and went to Cascade to see if she could open her own.
Operating under the Orphan Care Ministry, Julie opened The Treasure Chest in a room in the new church building, with its own outdoor entrance. At the end of January, the team began moving furniture to set up the shop and to receive donations. On the official open date, April 26, Julie had so many items the store was overflowing.
“The location in the church building is ideal, but we are bursting at the seams and have already run out of room,” she said. “We are praying for a solution for this great problem.”
The Treasure Chest doesn’t just aim to give away gently used items, but also to serve as a resource for foster parents. Julie hopes to become a network connection to give families more information they might not be aware of, and to direct them to more resources.
“The life of a foster parent can be extremely exhausting and draining,” Julie said, speaking from experience. “Anything positive and uplifting we can do to help them out is worth it.”
Julie has assembled a large team to assist with the store. She works closely with her parents and her husband. Even her children are getting involved. She says Cascade staff has also voluntarily stepped up to help, including Hettinga’s daughter Autumn, who planted two pots of flowers. Although the Orphan Care Ministry is in its beginning stages, Julie has big goals.
“I would love to have a special section in The Treasure Chest for formal wear so teens can pick out a beautiful gown or suit, along with accessories, to wear for school functions and dances,” she said. “I can also picture us having specific drives at various times throughout the year, like a coat drive before school starts or a school supply drive.”
Julie references James 1:27, to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. She notes not everyone is called to be a foster parent or to adopt, but we are all called to do something.
"The Treasure Chest is a tangible way for people to get involved and make a difference in the lives of these children, who are in situation by no fault of their own,” Julie said. “We want them to feel loved and just like other kids.”
Allison Hurtado, Writer
Allison Hurtado is assistant director of Marketing and Communications at the University of Central Florida.