Feeding the Future 7

JFCS and Just Three Things Continue to Nourish the Lives of Foster Youth

There is nothing like coming home from a long day, grabbing a snack from the pantry or fridge and sitting down to relax and unwind. It’s a simple thing that most of us do on a daily basis without even thinking about it, yet it’s also something we oftentimes take for granted.

Many foster youth and teens aging out of the foster care system have never experienced the security of knowing that they will leave school or work and come back to a stable environment or hot meal, and the struggle to find a consistent source of food becomes a burden as they try to improve their lives. That’s where organizations like the Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) come in.

Founded in 1935 by a group of Phoenix women, JFCS has grown over the years to become the leading non-profit, non-sectarian organization in comprehensive behavioral health for children, families and adults.

“We really do everything, from taking care of children to providing services for adults,” says Carrol Gottfried, director of development for JFCS. “I just think we’ve made a wonderful commitment to the future of Arizona with our behavioral health and now integrated healthcare programs.”

One of these programs, Real World Job Development, works with teens currently aging out of the foster care system—many of them with very little education and life skills—to provide them with the resources, support and encouragement needed to get their GED, find a job or an apartment and pave a path of independence and success.

“I just feel really strongly that our youth should have an education and the life skills they need to become positive members of our community and society,” says Gottfried.

And the rewards gained at Real World —for both the foster youth and those involved in the program—are truly life-changing.

“It’s just great to hear the success stories. To hear about children that were completely lost and now have adjusted, have jobs and college degrees and are self-sufficient is just so fulfilling. Some of them have even gone on to give back and help other youth,” says Gottfried.

It was just that— the unending positivity, encouragement and dedication of the Real World staff to helping these youth succeed— which first caught the attention of Holly Packer after she took a tour of the facility over five years ago.

“I was so impressed by the program and all the students in it because I knew the hardships these youth who were aging out of the foster care system were going through and really admired them so much for choosing to work hard, live independently and change the course of their lives journey,” she says.

When asked what was needed the most at Real World, the resounding answer was food. So, later that evening, Packer sat down at her kitchen table and devised a plan to ask people from around her community to donate just three food items a month to the program—and thus, Just Three Things (J3T) was born.

“It started small, with me just asking some of the people that I know to donate three food items a month, then simply by word of mouth it got bigger and bigger and the food just starting coming in,” says Packer.  “It’s now grown beyond what I ever thought, and my dream is to expand enough one day so that we have food to give to all of JFCS facilities.”

What began as one small bookshelf housing a few can and boxed goods at Real World has now grown into a full-fledged pantry room, where youth can grab two or three meals a day and not worry about eating while trying to balance school and work. But more importantly, it’s also a testament to the whole community’s support and appreciation for the teens’ commitment to improving their lives.

“I remember one day as I was delivering food to the pantry, a girl came up and asked me what I had to do to get people to donate the food. And when I told her that all I really had to do was ask, and she was shocked,” says Packer.

“If you really think about their lives and all that they have been through, no one has really cared or supported them. So for people to be willing to do this for them really gives them encouragement and worth.”

That’s what is truly at the heart of both JFCS and Just Three Things—a dedication to making sure foster youth are not only given an education and life skills, but also showing them that they are worth it, that they matter, and that they still have so much to offer to our society.

For more information on JFCS, please visit JFCSAZ.org. If interested in donating canned food items for the pantry and to learn more about J3T, please contact Holly Packer at 
Just3ThingsPantry@gmail.com. 

QUOTES:

“I come to JFCS to get my education and learn how to be independent. I had been struggling with food so it really helps me to come here and get food so thank you.”

“I would like to thank everyone who has donated to us because it really makes a difference in all the students’ lives and it means the world to us that someone we have never met before cares enough to help us out.”

“I just want to thank you for donating your food to us. I am trying to make it on my own and really need some food so you help out a lot. Thank you and God bless.”