Wanting to be loved and care for is a basic need for everyone but for a child it is everything. So imagine being a child in the foster care system. For some reason or another your parents have failed you and you are now alone. Your only hope lies in a new family one that will love and care for you and make you feel wanted.
While feeling wanted, loved and safe is the most important necessity to such a child, there are other things, tangible things that help smooth the process and reassure a child they are important, wanted and loved.
Tracie Catalano, a selfless woman and a foster parent herself, has made it her mission in life to bridge that gap and provide foster parents and foster children the things they need in order to facilitate the transition for all involved.
Fostering a child is an act of selfless love. To bring any child into your home who is not your own and to provide them with love, happiness, and life’s essentials needs, foster parents truly make a difference in children’s lives.
For some of these children, their world as they knew it had been turned upside down. Each case is different than the other, but the results are the same; the child or children now need a parent(s) substitute. They need a family they can be a part of to continue growing into a balanced member of society in a loving environment.
It takes a special person to be a foster parent. And “Not everyone can be a foster parent, but any one can help a foster family“. That is printed on the the business card for Mary Ann’s Closet.
Tracie’s mission is simple: To equip and support foster parents. Mary Ann’s Foster Closet is not a literal closet, of course. It is a non profit 501(C) (3) public charity, founded and run by Tracie.
When she took in her first foster child, she did not have the basic items needed to welcome the child into her home. Later, when she took in her first infant, she did not have even a bottle to feed this poor child. Finding herself unequipped with the basic essentials for a baby like a crib, stroller, diapers and clothing, Tracie realized there was a need to help foster parents be better prepared for the task ahead by easing the financial burden of acquiring those things.
This led Tracie to found Mary Ann’s Foster Closet, a place where foster parents can come to find clothing, strollers, cribs and other essentials items. Lifting the burden of having to purchase these items helps both foster parents and foster children during a difficult transitional period. All this is provided at no cost to the foster parents.
Tracie says, “Being a foster parent is a doubled edge sword. You want to protect them from what they’ve seen or been through, but they also grieve the loss of the family and life they knew. Many of these children end up needing therapy to get them through the traumas they have experienced”. The new clothing makes the children feel proud and can be soothing when they are in difficult situations going into a new home. Tracie provides them with new shoes, clothing for school, clothing for home, items of hygiene, and even books and toys.
The name for Mary Ann’s Foster Closet was a very sweet and deliberate tribute to Tracie’s mother, Mary Ann, whom sadly passed away. “Our inspiration is my mother, Mary Ann. During her professional years she generally held positions that helped others”, Tracie explains.
Mary Ann became a professional photographer upon retirement. She donated her works to charity in order to use for fundraising events. At a time when AIDS was not really spoken about, Mary Ann was very active in the cause. Mary Ann lived in the North and was always thinking of others. She knitted little hats for children that she would then take to the St. Patrick’s Soup Kitchen in Upstate New York. Tracie says, “She had a strong desire to make sure that the little ones were taken care of”.
Tracie has personally fostered 8 children, adopted 2, and 2 are on track to stay with Tracie forever. Sadly, Mary Ann did not get to meet any of these children, but hopefully she is watching from afar. Surely she is very proud of Tracie’s mission and accomplishments.
In Mary Ann’s Foster Closet, Tracie has a vast collection of children’s clothing from birth to teen sizes. She even has prom dresses that are remnants from prior events. Tracie has mastered the organization of bin after bin of classified clothing from male to female and sizes ranging from babies to teenage sizes.
Tracie depends heavily on volunteers. She provides high school volunteer service hours. Her helpers must be responsible, they must know the mission, and must understand the need and why they are helping.
Since this is a charity, Tracie also depends on donations. Clean, gently used clothes are always appreciated and brand new items are highly valued. Her mission is to provide children with new or almost new clothing and shoes. Just as we would purchase new items for our own children, Tracie wants to make sure that foster children have clothing and shoes that they could feel proud to wear.
The charity has a great need for hygiene products, such as baby wipes, lotion, diapers, and believe it or not, reusable shopping bags. So if you have a few extra cloth Publix bags or reusable bags from other shopping stores, and you don’t need them, Tracie will gladly take them.
Tracie has partnered multiple times with The Legacy Closet, another long standing charity close to home. One of the most recent events was a Prom event in which they collected between 900 to 1000 dresses! Tracie has also partnered with In Jacob’s Shoes. From their website, “The mission of In Jacob’s Shoes is to provide new and gently used shoes to children in need”. Tracie will receive shoes and hand them off to In Jacob’s Shoes, where they are cleaned or refurbished then ready to be donated to a child in need. Tracie cannot guarantee getting back the same shoes she handed over, but she has gotten shoes from them to help her in her cause.
Unwanted items that are sent to Tracie that she cannot use are often sent to other donations based places that can use them, like Goodwill. Goodwill will resell these items, but Tracie does not sell anything. She is here to provide for the community at no cost to the new foster parent trying to organize items for a new child in their life.
You can donate new or gently used items and bring them to Tracie. Mary Ann’s closet is located at 1461 Southwest 12th Avenue, unit A, in Pompano Beach 33069.You can also visit her website www.MaryAnnsCloset.org. You can email Tracie directly at [email protected] To contact her by phone please call (954) 574-2521.
A major way you can help is by becoming a foster yourself. If you have any questions or concerns or even do not know where to begin, Tracie is a good person to look for, for guidance. The high number of foster children that we know of, and are documented, is far too great. Sadly, there are even undocumented cases that we are not aware of. If you are a foster parent or are a parent struggling to make ends meet, please contact Tracie for help.
You can also help by spreading the word. Like her business card reads, “Not everyone can be a foster parent, but anyone can help a foster family”.
Anamaria Moreno is an Elementary school teacher. Born in Costa Rica, but mostly raised in Venezuela, Ms. Moreno came to South Florida in 1996 where she has resided ever since. She graduated from Lynn University, with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She has taught in the classroom for 18 years, most recently teaching the first grade for the past seven years. Before becoming a teacher, Ms. Moreno was involved in volunteer work with the Child Life Specialists Department at Miami Children’s Hospital. She also served as member of the Board of Directors for “A Caring Pregnancy Center” in Miami. Most recently, Ms. Moreno has taught at an elementary school in Oakland Park. Ms. Moreno also teaches ESOL to Adults in Night School. When Ms. Moreno is not in the classroom, she enjoys baking custom specialty cakes, face painting, and enjoys creating Arts and Crafts.