2014-07-03 / Faith

Foster kids benefit from warehouse

Church aids charity in opening storage facility in Newbury Park
By Anna Bitong


DONATIONS—Kirk DeWitt, pastor of Conejo Church, and his wife, Stacy, stand inside the new James Storehouse in Newbury Park on Monday. Stacy DeWitt helped find the Newbury Park warehouse to hold clothes, beds and other necessities to be donated to foster children. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers DONATIONS—Kirk DeWitt, pastor of Conejo Church, and his wife, Stacy, stand inside the new James Storehouse in Newbury Park on Monday. Stacy DeWitt helped find the Newbury Park warehouse to hold clothes, beds and other necessities to be donated to foster children. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Thomas wore a new suit when he received his high school diploma.

The teenager had been in the foster care system since he was 3 and until only recently owned just two pairs of pants and a few T-shirts. Before his graduation, Thomas’ case worker requested new clothes for him from Kim Winston Bigler, founder of James Storehouse, a nonprofit that provides clothes, beds and other necessities to foster youth.

A donation warehouse for the organization, which serves Ventura and Los Angeles counties, opened at 3541 Old Conejo Road in Newbury Park this month.

“All Thomas wanted was a graduation outfit and a prom outfit,” Bigler said. “A lot of the time these (foster) kids don’t have hardly anything because they’re moving from house to house. They actually lose a lot of their items during the transitions.”


LOTS TO SORT—Stacy DeWitt goes through donated clothing items inside the new James Storehouse warehouse. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers LOTS TO SORT—Stacy DeWitt goes through donated clothing items inside the new James Storehouse warehouse. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers On the big day, none of Thomas’ family was in the crowd. But Bigler went to give her support.

“Thomas said, ‘I’m going to graduate, but nobody’s going to be there. Would you come to my graduation?” Bigler said. “So we went. We had signs saying ‘We’re proud of you Thomas.’ He was there in his suit, he was looking great. He waved to us when his name was called.”

“Many of these children don’t go to their graduations because when their name is called, nobody claps. So we clapped, we yelled, we whistled.”

Bigler has been helping foster kids and youth who have left the foster system after they turn 18— the age cap will soon be raised to 21—since she and Lori McClurg started James Storehouse in 2012.

After opening in Newbury Park, the nonprofit partnered with Ventura County Human Services, which relies on James Storehouse for the urgent needs of foster children. Bigler brought the organization to Newbury Park with help from Stacy DeWitt, wife of Conejo Church pastor Kirk DeWitt.

“We had just been praying and asking the Lord, where are the broken hearts in our community? We want to do something about that,” Stacy DeWitt said.

Bigler, who attends Conejo Church, teamed with DeWitt to raise $90,000 and open the James Storehouse warehouse nearby.

Bigler was a volunteer at the Department of Child and Family Services in Chatsworth when she noticed the desperate need for beds among foster children. A child could not be placed in a good home if the residence did not have a bed for that child.

“A family could have everything, but if the child does not have a crib or a bed, then (child services) simply will provide another means for care, which is usually a group home, the least best option for the child,” Bigler said. “It’s a known fact within the system that in these group homes . . . more than likely they’ll get maltreated because (troubled) kids hurt other kids. The abuse level in these homes is pretty high.”

Providing beds to foster families can also keep together siblings who might otherwise be separated because there aren’t enough beds in one home. The “secondary trauma,” Bigler said, can sometimes be worse.

“These kids were their mother and father to each other,” Bigler said. “Normally those kids endure much more trauma because the siblings were the only love and only support system they actually had in a family.”

Donors are also encouraged to give new bedding. Many foster kids receive used bedding, beds, sofas and clothes that carry bugs. Other needed items are listed on the James Storehouse website.

Claudia, a 17-year-old foster child recently adopted by her guardian, recently went to her counselor at Newbury Park High School with a plan to open a nonprofit. The student, who did not want her last name published, was put in touch with Bigler and opened Claudia’s Closet at James Storehouse to provide clothes to young people in need.

“I see kids struggle with self-esteem at Newbury Park High School,” said Claudia, who aspires to study astronomy in college and work for NASA. “Not only foster kids, normal teenagers who can’t afford clothing or the latest fashion. So the right clothing improves our self-esteem. All we want is acceptance.”

“Foster kids need to know that they matter,” DeWitt said. “They need to know that their life is important, that they’re loved and cared for and they deserve it, that the circumstances in their life are not their fault and they have hope for a fantastic future and people believe in them.”

For more information about James Storehouse or to make a monetary donation, visit www.jamesstorehouse.org.

To drop off a donation at the Newbury Park location, email jamesstorehouse@gmail.com.

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