Marie and Ron Peters have fostered 193 children over four decades. But Marie Peters said she’s never focused on the numbers. “It’s the years you’re committed to these children that matters,” she said.
The Peterses, members of St. Joseph Parish in Manchester, became foster parents after they adopted five children through Catholic Charities of St. Louis years ago. Now in their 80s, they are caring for 2-year-old twins, Noel and Mekhi, who are in need of an adoptive family.
A year ago, the couple met Christine Hendricks at Sacred Heart Parish in Valley Park at a Mass for families with special needs. Hendricks, who leads the parish’s Respect Life committee, discovered they were foster parents and saw the potential for a deeper connection.
As part of her work with the Respect Life committee, Hendricks invited the Fostering Faithful Families program to Sacred Heart several years ago. The program, coordinated by Catholic Charities’ Good Shepherd Children and Family Services, raises awareness of the needs of foster children and recruits new foster parents. The program identifies opportunities to support foster families, including providing respite care, donating gift cards or clothing for families and adopting foster families at the holidays.
More than 13,000 children are in foster care in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services, Children’s Division. Hendricks said the parish already had been raising awareness for several years about the need for foster families. She knew more could be done to be a support to families who foster all of these children.
“We would talk about what could we do? How could we help these people?” Hendricks said. “We met Ron and Marie at the special needs Mass, and I was just asking Marie — what can we help you with? What can we do for you? At that time, they had a need for car seats. And we got them a Magic Bullet (for pureeing baby food). It started with something simple like that.”
In February, Sacred Heart hosted an information night on foster care. That resulted in another connection. Tiffany Marquart, founder of the Valley Park Foster Closet, heard about the event on social media and contacted Hendricks. Marquart saw that as an opportunity to get the word out about her organization, which provides foster families in the area with free resources, such as clothing, diapers and other baby items. The Knights of Columbus at Sacred Heart donated money for shelving at the closet, and parishioners have volunteered there.
Cora Taylor, coordinator of Fostering Faithful Families, also provided Hendricks with a list of foster families in the Valley Park area. The parish was connected with a family who was fostering three children. “We contacted them and three of us offered babysitting, and we started a meal train to provide a meal once a week,” Hendricks recalled. “We put it out to the parish and said, ‘Hey if you’d like to get involved, contact us.’ It was all meant to be.”
Hendricks said she sees all of this as building a culture of life. It’s an example of what one parish can do to support families and helping with tangible needs. “It started off small, bringing awareness and education,” she said. “And now it’s grown.”
Taylor, of Fostering Faithful Families, said that children who come into foster care are usually there because of abuse or neglect. She works with more than two dozen parishes in the archdiocese, as well as more than 10 churches in other denominations, in raising awareness of the needs of children in the foster care system.
“The goal of the state in foster care is reunification — to work with the biological family to keep them together,” Taylor said. “If the parents cannot care for the child, then we look toward grandparents, or aunts and uncles or other extended family who are in a healthy place.”
“It’s been neat to see how God has used these parishioners to help these (foster) families,” Taylor said. “These are things people can do to help bolster foster parents’ emotional well-being as they are navigating through the systems and showing them their church and parish really care about what they are doing.”
>> Becoming a foster parent
Good Shepherd Children and Family Services’ foster care program works with youths from birth to 21 years old who are in Missouri’s foster care system. The program provides a safe home where they can receive care, while working toward strengthening and reuniting families and/or linking youths with permanent, safe and loving homes. Good Shepherd is seeking new foster families. There is a special need for families for older children (over 10 years old) and sibling groups. Foster parents may be married or single and may have other children in the home. New applicants go through an assessment and training process to become licensed foster parents. Other requirements include:
• Must be at least 21 years old
• Have a safe house or apartment with adequate space
• Be in generally good health and financially stable
• Be able to provide a positive role model to the youth in your care
To learn more about becoming a foster parent, call Good Shepherd at (314) 854-5704.
Fostering Faithful Families
The Fostering Faithful Families program raises awareness of the needs of foster children and supports the families who care for them. The program, sponsored by Good Shepherd Children and Family Services, works with volunteer ambassadors to raise awareness among parishes in the archdiocese and identify opportunities to support foster families, including providing respite care, donating gift cards or clothing for families and adopting foster families at the holidays. For more information, call Cora Taylor at (314) 854-5716.
>> Adoptive family needed
Princess Noel and Dream Mekhi are in need of an adoptive family. The 2-year-old twins were born prematurely and have special needs. For more information, contact Amanda Blaylock with the Missouri Department of Social Services, St. Louis County Children’s Division, at (314) 264-7724 or firstname.lastname@example.org
>> Valley Park Foster Closet
As a foster parent, Tiffany Marquart knows how important it is to be ready at a moment’s notice. The phone call comes — a child needs to be temporarily separated from his or her family for a variety of reasons — and Marquart and her family step in to fill the gap, offering care for an extended period of time.
Most foster families learn to keep a variety of clothing and other children’s necessities on hand. But sometimes they need other items with quick notice.
Almost a year ago, Marquart started the Valley Park Foster Closet to provide free resources to licensed foster families, including diapers, clothing and other baby and children’s items. The organization falls under the umbrella of One Heart Family Ministries, which trains families who care for children in foster care.
Parishioners at Sacred Heart in Valley Park met Marquart at an information night on foster care that was hosted by the parish, and they jumped into gear with an offer of help. With support of the Knights of Columbus, they purchased storage bins and shelves for the closet and helped organize clothing. Other donations have come from members of the community.
Marquart had seen similar efforts in other parts of St. Louis, but there was nothing this specific in the West County area, she said of the closet. She started by trading items with other foster families in the area; by January, a space was opened in a commercial building her husband owns in Valley Park.
Families come from as far away as Jefferson and Franklin counties. “It is a great location for those neighboring counties,” she said. “Since we have opened and I started keeping track, we serve between 45 and 60 kids every month.”
The closet is open on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Sunday afternoons, or by appointment. Items most needed include disposable diapers, as well as baby gear in good and non-expired condition. Visit Valley Park Foster Closet on Facebook to learn more about the organization.