TAMPA, Fla. — It goes without saying the COVID-19 pandemic flipped many people's lives upside down. It may have an even deeper impact on those who are in the foster care system.
Ashanti is one of them.
"I have bad anxiety so it got worse," Ashanti said.
The 17-year-old girl has been in foster care since she was 18 months old.
Uncertainty is a constant for her. But this pandemic has also shown her a different side of the struggle.
"This pandemic has made me think that I'm not alone. Everyone is going through something right now," Ashanti said.
To help ease the worry and bring some much-needed distraction, Heart Gallery stepped in to help with two new bikes and a goody bag.
"She really needs to get out of the house and get some exercise and it's just a great way to relieve stress. It's a great way for her and her foster mom to bond," said Heart Gallery's Christie Enderle.
Enderle delivered the bikes along with helmets and locks. The donation was thanks to the non-profit organization, OnBikes.
"These kids have daily stressors already," Enderle said. "They are already dealing with anxiety and some depression and some just having a hard time so when you add this on top of it and they're not able to see their friends at school and their teachers and sometimes they have siblings that are not placed with them."
As the organization's venue coordinator, she has seen the toll the pandemic has taken on foster children and the system.
"There have been some placements fall through where children have to be moved because whatever is going on in the home isn't healthy for them or they're just not in the right spot," Enderle said.
Heart Gallery said their mission remains the same as the world works to operate around a new normal: help foster children in the Tampa Bay area.
A big part of making that happen is the generosity of donors like OnBikes, Caspers Company, Grow Into You and Bank of America.
Their donations helped to create birthday boxes for the children. They contain a mix of items to help kids celebrate their birthday while they are home bound.
The boxes are now dropped off at their house, contact-free. It is a change in the way things have been done, but the message remains the same -- a reminder these kids are not alone.
For more information on how to help or if you are interested in helping create a birthday box, visit heartgallerytampa.org/how-to-help/.