Non-Profit Gives Back Big With Emergency Sanctuary Bags

by Carolyn Bick

For last year’s GIVEBIG event, Amara set a modest fundraising goal of $5,000. Much to everyone’s surprise at the nonprofit foster and adoption agency, they raised more than $11,000.

The money went towards Amara’s Emergency Sanctuary bag program, Amara’s Development Manager Carrie Bassett said. The program provides duffel bags of clothes for children who go through one of two locations in the South Seattle-based nonprofit’s Emergency Sanctuary program. The program was founded by Amara in 2014 to serve as a sort of “soft landing” for children who are taken from their homes by police or state social workers. Though the sanctuary is solely an Amara program resource, Washington state social workers are responsible for placing the children post-program.”

“We know that kids, without the sanctuary, would bounce from home to home within a matter of a couple days … and/or be separated from their siblings … sometimes spend nights in hotel rooms with social workers, or ride around in police cars,” Bassett said. “These homes help kids … feel welcome and cared for at a traumatic time.”

Bassett said Amara will be taking part again this year in GIVEBIG, the Seattle Foundation’s annual community giving event in which area nonprofits are encouraged to take part. The online event takes place Wednesday, May 9.

In Amara’s case, the money will again be going towards the Emergency Sanctuary bag program. The $150 that goes towards creating each bag allows Amara to provide each Emergency Sanctuary child with three sets of pajamas, two sets of everyday clothes, and one pair of shoes.

Though the Emergency Sanctuary program is relatively young, Bassett said it has already served more than 500 children each year, caring for up to five children at any one time, for up to five days. While children in the program are currently housed in rented properties in Seattle and Tacoma, Bassett said Amara will soon be opening a permanent location in South Seattle.

Because of the trauma associated with being unexpectedly removed from parents or caretakers, Bassett said, Amara strives to create as warm, calm, normal environment for children in the Emergency Sanctuary program as possible. Children of the same gender bunk together, and each program location has books, television, and games, as well as a backyard and a playground nearby.

“When kids are at the sanctuary, as much as possible, they are doing all kinds of normal things that kids would have fun doing, ideally,” Bassett said. “[Each location] has a full dining table, so they all sit around the table for meals.”

Children are also taken to a doctor for a physical checkup, and Amara staffers are onsite at all times. Bassett said the goal is to not only care for the children physically but also to make the are as emotionally healthy as possible.

Amara provides case notes about the children who stay at the Emergency Sanctuary that may help state social workers find the best place for a child to go after they leave the Sanctuary whether they return home, stay with a relative, or enter foster care. However, Bassett said, in an effort to keep the children in familiar environments, Amara “will work really hard” to keep them in the same school district, and potentially even place them with foster families licensed through Amara.

Bassett said the nonprofit doesn’t currently track what happens to Emergency Sanctuary program children, but has set a goal this year to change that, and “be accountable for every child.” She said Amara also has an Amazon Wishlist through which people may donate specifically to fill Emergency Sanctuary bags or more generally support the organization.

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