Local foster youth get back-to-school shopping

More than 200 local youth in the foster care system were given the chance to shop for new clothes ahead of the school year Sunday.

The Santa Clarita-based organization Tidings for Teens, which works to help the underserved youth in foster care, has partnered with the Department of Children and Family Services since 2016 to hold annual shopping events.

Each year, Tidings for Teens partners with Old Navy, which opened its store after hours for the private shopping event, along with Augusta Financial, which matches all funds raised, dollar for dollar, which has also helped to spur donations.

Since 2016, the event’s been growing, with the organization able to serve around 65 kids when the event began, to this year, serving 200 foster youth, as well as 30 who’ve aged out of the system.

Participating kids are chosen by the DCFS social workers as those in most need, and each child gets $100 to spend at Old Navy.

This year’s event was the biggest yet, and Michelle Penez, children’s services administrator with DCFS Santa Clarita, said it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the pandemic continues to impact local families.

Whether due to lost income during the pandemic or simply families who just need some extra help, foster youth need all the support they can get, Penez said. That includes older children, like Maya Hofmann, an 18-year-old who recently aged out of foster care, and is starting her first year at California State University, Northridge.

“I’m so excited. I haven’t been in school since … the beginning of the pandemic,” Hofmann said. “Foster youth like me that are just off to college and on their own now, we can’t always go out and spend (money) on clothes. We have to recycle the last year’s (clothes), make them look a little vintage.”

It’s because of this that Hofmann said events like this one are so helpful, adding, “It’s just clothes, but it’s much more to us because when do we get to do this?”

Some of the DCFS staff even traveled across the Santa Clarita Valley picking kids up to make sure they were able to attend the event, as the $100 goes a long way toward helping these foster youth feel prepared for the new school year, especially in the midst of the pandemic, as many wouldn’t have been able to get new clothes or school supplies otherwise, Penez added.

“It’s huge,” Penez added of the event’s importance. “A lot of our families have to choose between paying for utilities and rent or … backpacks and school supplies. That’s extra. A lot of our families are just going basic needs, and this is really helping them get extra support really when they need it most. … Tidings for Teens and the rest of our community have really risen up to the occasion to help us.”

DCFS is already prepping for holiday events to come in the fall, with a free community resource fair set to kick things off in October, followed by a Thanksgiving food drive, adopt-a-family program and more ahead of the holiday season.

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