Jefferson Award Winner Established Free Clothes ClosetBy Allen Martin

CASTRO VALLEY (KPIX 5) Often when a child enters the foster care system, he or she has nothing. So this week’s Jefferson Award winner decided to do something about that.

Rendy Orlando and her daughter Gia are shopping for back-to-school basics. One item that is high on the future fourth grader’s wish list: some cool shoes.

“We just get the stuff we actually need,” explained Gia. “Like say if we needed shorts, we get some shorts.”

Gia and her mom found shorts, shoes, and more at the Alameda County Foster Parent Association‘s clothes closet where every item is brand new and free for association member foster families.

Joyce Ryder has been with the Alameda County Foster Parent Association for over a decade. She started the closet 6 years ago. Ryder says the closet is a blessing for the 100 families it serves every year.

“It’s a great need, said Ryder. “Sometimes they have nothing, not even shoes. So then you have to scramble and run to the store before you even bring them home to get the clothing.”

It’s a process Ryder knows well. In the last two decades, she’s fostered more than 40 children, and adopted a special needs child.

Ryder also chairs the Association’s fundraising and donation program. Its non-profit partners like Good 360, help stock the closet with kid-friendly trends like Gymboree clothes and Ugg boots.

“Boots… you know how expensive those are,” explained Ryder. “So kids were thrilled when they would be able to get the Ugg boots here.”

Ryder also oversees a yearly summer picnic, a holiday party, and backpack and toy giveaways. Funding also comes from private and corporate donations as well as grants. At 68 years of age, Ryder is an inspiration to other foster parents like Rendy Orlando.

“She is a go-getter,’ said Orlando. “She’s the mother of all so to speak.”

But Ryder is ready retire, so other foster parents like Orlando will take over the closet. It’s the fulfillment of Ryder’s lifelong calling and dream.

“That this would continue on,” explained Ryder. “Just that it would go on and not end when I leave.”

The Alameda County Foster Parent Association’s clothes closet is always in need of donations. The organization only accepts new items. Diapers are its biggest need. Recently other foster parent members held a successful on-line diaper drive.

The closet is only available to association members, and their children. But Ryder has facilitated the donation of surplus items to other foster parent groups and communities in need like those affected by the Wine Country fires and survivors of the hurricane in Puerto Rico.

So for helping improve the lives of foster children in Alameda County, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Joyce Ryder.

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