When Lori Souza founded Case For Kids seven years ago, she never dreamed it would still be active today.
“When I started it, I thought, you know, it’s probably going to be a cause of the day, it will be around for a little bit — people will forget about it and move on — and then it just kept growing and the community really embraced it,” Souza said.
The nonprofit assembles cases filled with new clothes and other personal supplies for children entering foster care, from newborns to 18-year-olds.
“The reason why these are really important is because, most of the time, kids are coming into foster care with garbage bags or nothing at all,” Souza said. “When I first started this, I thought, this is atrocious, how can we do this?”
To help fund the work, the nonprofit will host its annual Princess Tea Party on Feb. 23 at the Tracy Community Center.
Souza said that more than 1,300 foster children have received personalized cases of supplies in the Tracy, Mountain House and Lathrop areas over the past seven years.
Each time Case For Kids is given the name of a foster child, a request for volunteers goes out via social media with the child’s age and gender. When someone offers to help, that person receives the child’s first name and clothing size along with a $50 gift card from the nonprofit. The volunteer is responsible for buying three sets of new clothes and decorating a case — the nonprofit’s term for a sturdy plastic storage box. Case for Kids also provides a blanket, bed sheets, toiletries, a stuffed animal and books.
Souza, who works in the foster care system and also serves on the Tracy Unified School District board, said the children who end up in foster homes are often removed quickly from dangerous situations by police or child protective services, without time to gather belongings.
“Ninety percent of kids come into foster care because of neglect or drugs, so a lot of the time, they may not even have things that we can bring with us,” she said. “Kids come into care with lice, or dirty, or clothes that don’t even fit. That’s a huge problem. This gives them a brand-new start.”
Souza said Case for Kids has expanded its outreach over the years with holiday visits to the Mary Graham Children’s Shelter in French Camp. Volunteers provide a home-cooked meal and spend time playing games with the children and staff on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
The organization also produces the Crowns & Cases Special Needs Pageant each year.
Souza takes pride in saying the nonprofit has never applied for a grant; all the money to support it has come directly from community donations. But the need keeps growing, she said, and new supporters and volunteers are welcome.
This month’s Princess Tea Party is Case For Kids’ biggest fundraiser.
Each child who attends will receive a swag bag with a wand and a crown along with a tea cup to decorate. Party guests can also take part in a number of princess-themed events, including a sing-along, photo stations with Disney princesses from Premier Party, and arts and crafts to make and take home. SweetArts bakery is providing a cake again this year, and tea, juice, and snacks will be served. At a princess pampering station, for an extra fee, children can have face paint or makeup applied.
“We would really love to sell this out again this year,” Souza said. “We usually sell it out every year, but we still have quite a few tickets left over right now.”
Her goal, she said, is to “just maintain the organization and keep the donations coming in as the community feels led to do so that we can continue to help the foster kids in our community.”
The Case For Kids Princess Tea Party will be from 2-4 p.m. Feb. 23 at Tracy Community Center, 950 East St. Tickets are $40 each and are available at Eventbrite. A link can be found on the Case For Kids Facebook page.
Anyone who wants to support the program but can’t or doesn’t wish to attend the party can buy a ticket and donate it to a foster child. People can also sign up online to help set up, clean up or serve at the party.