MENDON, Mich. — Wednesday morning, dozens of bins were stacked on top of each other in the fellowship hall at the West Mendon Community Church. A handful of volunteers and church members went through each of the boxes to examine the clothes inside them.
Tiffany Wagler was one of them. She pulled several bins from the stack, carried them to a nearby table and made sure there was enough shirts, pants, socks and underwear for one child for two weeks.
“We even added a swimsuit just in case they get placed immediately with a foster family and if that foster family is going out of town with a pool, we want them to make sure that they had a swimsuit,” Tiffany said while smiling. “We’re in Michigan and sometimes you need a hot break to go to a pool.”
Tiffany said the bins were going to children, from infants to 17-year-olds, who were in the foster care system. She and her husband Rob created the nonprofit Rooted in St. Joseph County to help make their transition into foster care homes easier for them and the families.
“Oftentimes they come and they’re not given the chance to get cleaned up. And sometimes they’re not even fed real well,” said Rob who also pastors the church. “So we just wanted to step in the gap there and be able to provide for those children, give them a place to go to that they can get fed, get clothing [and] they can get cleaned up a bit.”
Rob and Tiffany said they're passionate about fostering children. They’ve fostered six kids in the last three years. And, they’ve adopted two.
“Right now we have seven kids in our home,” Tiffany said laughing. “But you’re allowed to have 8. And my son’s holding out for an infant.”
Rooted, a 501c3 nonprofit, was established in the fall of 2019, Tiffany said. However they’ve been working with other churches in the areas, collecting clothes and helpings kids for months.
They’ve also been doing research on what prevents people from becoming foster moms and dads, she said.
“We found across the board that generally bedbugs, head lice and a lack of clothing upon arrival were three major deterrents,” she said. “So we wanted to make sure that we incorporated that into Rooted.”
Currently Rooted is mainly based online and they work out of their church, she said. However, Rooted will be soon be an actual house in an undisclosed location. There, foster kids will be able to meet with caseworkers and grab a new bin to take to their new home.
“As adults we’re equipped to deal with things like this and children just aren’t,” Tiffany said. “And it’s our job as a community and as adults to step in the gap for kids who simply don’t have those resources at their fingertips.”