COVID-19 has been rough for kids living in homeless shelters, Nicole Russell explained, especially those who had grown accustomed to receiving in-person visits from groups like Precious Dreams Foundation, which Russell founded.
“They’re so used to relying on these free resources and these programs that come in and sometimes just lift their spirits when they’re having a rough day, or provide these essential needs that they really depend on.”
There are over 3,000 kids currently living in homeless shelters in Brooklyn alone, and over 800 more in foster care, according to the Citizens’ Committee for Children (CCC). Without a permanent home situation, many of these kids struggle to find comfort and a sense of stability.
Tomorrow, Precious Dreams Foundation will provide 400 homeless children, ages 6 to 18, with items like books, pajamas, and journals — all of it new, and all of it their own. Russell believes these ‘comfort bags,’ as they call them, can empower homeless or foster children to provide self-comfort, particularly around bedtime.
“It’s really important for us to give kids something that makes them feel special,” she said. All of the ‘comfort bags’ are hand-selected with the child’s age and gender in mind, and none of the items are previously used.
Russell has been involved with this work since 2012, when she and her mother, Angie Medina, launched the foundation. So far, they’ve delivered over 7,000 comfort bags to homeless and foster children throughout the city. “The purpose of these items is for kids to use them as healthy attachments, and so most children want to attach themselves to something that is new, and was purchased for them,” Russell said.
Because of how the foundation’s work is structured – they don’t send donations to the facilities they work with, preferring instead to gift comfort bags to each child in person – COVID-19 restrictions have presented a significant challenge. Now, Russell said, they have to trust the staff at each of the centers to distribute the gifts to each child.
Even if they can’t enter the facilities themselves, however, Russell saw an opportunity to bring the community together for a chance to put together, and deliver, comfort bags for kids in need.
‘’Everyone’s been feeling a sense of hopelessness, wanting to get up, move, and make a difference. This will give some families an opportunity to get outside and do some community service for the day,” Russell said.
After the families finish packing the bags in the parking lot of God’s Battalion of Prayer Church in East Flatbush, as well as at one location in Long Island, they’ll head off in different directions to make curbside deliveries to five Department of Homeless Services shelters.
The event is sponsored by a $10,000 grant from Brooklyn Community Foundation, a nonprofit that provides funding to nonprofits throughout the borough.
“We really wanted to see organizations that were really mindful of, and aware of, the disproportionate impact COVID-19 was having on black and brown communities in Brooklyn, and responding to that – that was a priority of the grant making,” said Marcella Tillett, Vice-President of Programs and Partnerships at Brooklyn Community Foundation.
Several of the shelters Precious Dreams will be delivering to during the event tomorrow are located in neighborhoods with large communities of color, like East New York and Brownsville. They are, Russell explained, some of the city’s largest family shelter locations, and have the greatest level of need.
In Brownsville in particular, the proportion of homeless youth is staggering: a report titled ‘The Dynamics of Family Homelessness in Brownsville,’ released by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH), stated that nearly one in five Brownsville students was homeless during the 2016-2017 school year – double the rate of Brooklyn as a whole.
“The issues that Precious Dreams are addressing,” Tillett explained, “is in looking to make sure that they’re supporting young people who are not just being impacted by [COVID-19], and the failures of systems that are supposed to be set up to respond to COVID-19, but also foster care, homelessness — we’re talking about all of the systems that, time and time again, fail black communities and fail black families.”