Packing up junior year two months early and heading home to New Jersey, Boston College student Isabel Litterst was disappointed. More than disappointed, however, Litterst felt disheartened, “I was hearing all these stories about people who were in situations I was lucky enough not to be facing,” Litterst said. “These kinds of problems really spoke to a part of me that wanted to do something.”
One week later she launched Foster a Family, an initiative that connects families and individuals in need, with sponsor families able to provide support. Support can come in many forms, and is often catered to the specific needs of the family receiving help. Host families can assist in grocery or prescription pick-up, as well as offer financial assistance. In addition to the goods and services, however, Foster a Family has become a network of connection during a time of distance.
“It’s not just helping out, or a one-time thing necessarily…families are checking up on each other and personal connection is so important right now,” Litterst said.
Both host families and individuals in need register using forms linked on the Foster a Family website. Each party selects what they are willing to provide, or what they are in need of receiving. From there, Litterst and newest member of the team, Boston College Junior Tiffany Brooks, manually make pairs.
“It was Tiff’s idea to do forms,” Litterst explained, “I would probably be lost without her help,” she added.
Revamping the website to adjust for greater volume and focusing specifically on outreach, Brooks was able to help Foster a Family grow to what has become around one hundred pairs all across the United States
“We know that a lot of families who are in need are also the ones without access to wifi, or can’t find our site as easily,” Brooks said.
Working hard to reach families in need, Litterst and Brooks have hung flyers across Boston and New Jersey, as well as reached out to public elementary, middle, and high school communities. Beyond outreach, however, the team dedicates hours every week to match pairs among the submissions. The team groups families based on geographical region as well as the type of goods and services being requested. More than just finding logistical matches though, Litterst and Brooks have noticed the deeper connections that have started forming between families. Many of the families in need have chosen to be very candid about their situations, leading to deeper connections with their host families.
“These people who are the ones in need of help…they are the ones who are also so willing to help saying ‘hey I want to help and do whatever I can. When this is over…I can’t wait to be in your position helping people,’” Litterst said. “The genuine humanity on both sides is beautiful.”
While Coronavirus has compounded already existing problems, and led to many more families in immediate need, Brooks and Litterst understand that the scope of the problem extends beyond the current pandemic, and they are hoping that Foster a Family can continue to provide aid even as communities begin to heal, “Right now there are a lot of people who need help,” Brooks said, “but there are always a lot of people who need help. And there are always a lot of people looking to help.”
In the network that has formed out of Foster a Family, Litterst and Brooks have been humbled by the number of people who want to offer assistance — even if it is as seemingly simple as picking up a prescription for an elderly member of the community.