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Empty Closet program aims to get foster children what they need and support foster parents

Posted at 5:38 AM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 07:56:12-04

TAMPA, Fla. — A new partnership is helping get Tampa Bay area children in the foster care system get what they need when they are placed into a new home. The program is designed to help support foster families caring for them also.

The West Florida Foster Care Services Empty Closet program has a goal to provide clothing, baby supplies, furniture, strollers, bikes and scooters to foster parents so they're equipped for the unique needs of the children they are fostering.

The organization is collecting donations of these items. They will clean and sort them, and then make them available as needed to foster families.

Children in the foster care system often go from placement to placement with nothing but a garbage bag of personal items, if they even have that.

It is a heartbreaking reality for Janet Rinaldi, who leads West Florida Foster Care Services.

“They usually come with nothing," Rinaldi said. "It’s really important for the child to have their own belongings. To have clothes to wear. To have shoes that are good to go to school in.”

West Florida Foster Care Services and the Temple Terrace United Methodist Church came together to form the Empty Closet program. The church serves as one of the drop off and "shopping" sites for foster families.

“We have the opportunity to rally around these families and show them that they are not in this alone," said Paster John Legg.

West Florida Foster Care Services is also partnering with Garage of Hope, a clothes closet serving foster families in Wesley Chapel. Its leader is Danyelle Schaer. She helped clean and stage the initial items at the church site and will be continue to make sure families in need have access to items.

Legg also said this program is designed to provide support for foster families who may be feeling isolated and in need of support.

"Just to listen and to hear the struggles and difficulties of someone else who might be in your similar situation," Legg said.

The Empty Closet Program is accepting second-hand items for kids in very good condition, but is mostly in need of new items to give foster children. These include toys, clothes in all sizes, ranging from infant to age 18, shoes, school supplies, uniforms and much more.

If you can donate time, money or items, please contact West Florida Foster Care Services at 813-235-8691 or email