The garage door whooshed open and my kids and I were greeted on the other side by Lori Church-Pursley and her adorable “half-golden-lab-half-polar-bear” Jake.
Lori’s daughter, 3-year-old Rose, walked up to me and sheepishly handed me a stuffed dog toy.
“Thank you, Rose.” I said.
Lori’s garage in the Cascade area of Renton looks like any other family garage: toys, clothing bins, canned goods . . . except Lori’s garage is very special.
Back in April Lori and her husband opened a new South King County branch of Sibling House out of their garage in Renton.
Located in Kirkland, Sibling House is a 15-year-old non-profit program that provides items of need to foster families willing to take sibling groups.
Although the garage was filled with toys for local foster kids, Ty, Patrick and Rose started scooping and running their hands inside a deep plastic bin containing red lentils – a simple toy Lori created for her kids to play with.
“Why did you start Sibling House?” I asked.
Back in January Lori and her husband fostered their first foster kids — two sisters, from January until April. I will refer to them as C and D.
Ten-year-old C and her 2-year-old sister D arrived on Lori’s doorstep with the clothes on their backs and one pair of ill fitting pajamas in the middle of the night.
“The girls’ mother had told them not to pack anything because the state will pay for everything.” Lori explained. “At first we thought our kids could share clothes because the state doesn’t reimburse for expenses until after the first month. My 10-year-old son has a lot of sweat pants and Rose was 3.”
I thought that was a sensible idea. Both Lori and her husband work for non-profit organizations. “It doesn’t pay very well but we know we’re doing good.”
However, C was a size 16 and D was wearing 5T so they each needed a set of clothes.
“And both the girls had issues surrounding food. The very small reimbursement rate provided by the state doesn’t even begin to cover the basic expenses of food and shelter, let alone provide funds for clothing, books, toys, and enrichment activities.”
On a limited budget themselves and with very little financial help from the state, the Pursley’s felt overwhelmed.
Lori and her husband turned to Lynne and Michael Gaskill, founders of the Sibling House in Kirkland.
“Lynn and Michael provided us with bunk beds, clothing, and diapers.”
After Lori’s family fostered C and D for four months the state located a second cousin willing to take the girls.
“Having them and letting them go was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Emotionally and financially.”
That experience was the catalyst for the Pursleys to clean out their garage and start a Sibling House Branch in Renton to help other families willing to take siblings instead of splintering families in the foster care system.
“There are a lot of foster homes in Tukwila, Renton and Kent. The 98058 area code in Renton is in the top three areas in this entire region for the largest number of kids removed from homes due to neglect.
Through our efforts with this new Sibling House branch in Renton we can provide clothing, food, toys, books and personal care items. The main site in Kirkland has all this plus furniture.”
“What happened to the girls?” my 12-year-old daughter Sophie asked?
“Foster parents are not supposed to see parents. But we were told to take the girls to the DSHS office in Kent. The girl’s mother was there with the second cousin who would foster the girls somewhere over on the Peninsula. It was heartbreaking; C and D didn’t want to go with them.”
The Pursley’s kept in contact with the mother for a while to receive information as to how the girls were doing. But eventually due to a strained relationship lost contact.
“Where does this drive to help people come from?” I asked. “Were you ever in foster care?”
“My parents were the type of people who would give you the shirt of their backs. They were leaders in the community. I often wonder why I am so drawn to helping people. I guess I’m just touched by how so many kids are growing up in such cruddy circumstances,” Lori said.
It was quiet when we got into the car.
“That story with those girls was so sad.” Sophie said.
“Yes. It is. But we’re going to help collect donations for them and that is something we can do right now to help,” I said.
The Pursley’s branch of Sibling House opened this past April. They are actively seeking donations. They can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
My daughter Sophie’s Girl Scout troop will be collecting donations for Sibling House at the Renton Farmers Market this Tuesday, July 17, from 3-7 p.m.
The troop will also be passing out a healthy snack recipe cookbooks for kids printed by PIP Printing in downtown Renton. So stop by make a donation and enjoy a healthy snack made by local girl scouts!
If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at email@example.com.