HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — Finding much-needed stability for children in crisis continues to be a struggle in Northeast Ohio.
Right now, more than 2,400 children in Cuyahoga County alone are in the care of the Division of Children and Family Services.
The agency is actively trying to recruit more foster families to meet the need.
Many of the children waiting were abruptly removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect or the death of a parent.
“When they’re placed with their foster families, they pretty much don’t have a lot of things at the time,” said Latasha Brown, Division of Children and Family Services.
Family photos, clothing, a favorite blanket — all left behind in the blink of an eye. That loss only compounds the trauma these children may have experienced.
“It’s very lonely,” said Jessica Camargo, who found herself in the foster care system at age 11. “You go in and you have your clothes on your back.”
Building up her wardrobe as she bounced from home to home, was a constant challenge.
“The one thing that was difficult to get was undergarments. So, bras, underwear, socks,” said Camargo.
During the most vulnerable and stressful time of her life, Camargo was singled out for her appearance.
“I remember being at that age where unfortunately I was developing and not having that and being teased at school because I didn’t have the things for a teenage girl at that time,” said Camargo.
A Highland Heights woman has stepped up to prevent another teen from experiencing what Camargo did.
“Those [undergarments] need to be individually bought, and so that leaves other things that won’t get bought and that’s what I hope to provide,” said Melanie GiaMaria.
In the basement of GiaMaria’s home, there’s a collection of clothing for boys and girls, from toddlers to teens.
“Maybe it’s just a little thing, but I think clothes do make the person,” said GiaMaria.
The attorney, who represents abused and neglected children, has been providing outfits for them as they go into foster care.
“Their trauma is just so horrible on their little souls,” GiaMaria said, adding that sometimes the clothes donations turn into impromptu fashion shows.
“They’ll put on their dress and they’re twirl around and that always makes me really happy, just that they’re smiling, and maybe have some happiness for that day. I mean, I can’t fix their trauma, but if I can make them smile because they have a pretty dress on, that’s pretty great,” said GiaMaria.
And those are the moments that Jessica Camargo said are desperately needed.
“I think what she is doing is amazing. It seems like maybe such a small thing to some people, but it really means a lot to those kids because normalcy is what we need,” said Camargo.
Parents, as you start some of that spring cleaning in your child’s closet, GiaMaria is encouraging you to keep her in mind.
You can drop off new or gently worn clothing at JoVann’s Tobacco Shop at 6260 Mayfield Road in Mayfield Heights.
GiaMaria said she only has one newborn outfit, so items specifically for children 0-3 months are in high demand.