The nonprofit serves foster children and their families in Manatee County by allowing them to "shop" for clothing.
Foster children who come to The Twig location at 9706 E. State Road 64, Bradenton will get their names added to a black wall in the boutique.
Putting the names on a wall is a tradition for The Twig, a nonprofit that now has two boutiques for foster children to shop for free clothes and shoes, and to provide other services for foster families.
“It’s a reminder there’s people who love and care for them here, so we’re pretty excited to have our first shopping day and start adding names to the wall,” said Nicole Britton, the director of development for The Twig.
The Twig opens its East County location June 3. The nonprofit opened its first location in May 2016 in Venice and has been serving about 300 children per month from newborns to those who aged out of foster care.
Britton said many of the nonprofit’s families travel up to 90 minutes to get to the Venice location, so having a location in East County will broaden the nonprofit’s reach.
Lloyd Weed, who founded the nonprofit with his wife, Dianne Weed, said opening a second location to serve more foster families is a blessing.
“This has been a dream of ours to expand, so to see it come to fruition is exciting,” Weed said. “We are blessed.”
The nonprofit hosts special "shopping days" each month in which foster children go to their respective clothing section and pick out seven items and a pair of shoes. Children will also receive socks, undergarments, an accessory and a book.
“We see a lot of kids come into foster care with either no shoes on or shoes that are way too small, way too big,” Britton said. “Shoes are something every child should have when they’re going to school. For teenagers, it can make a big difference for helping them feel like they fit in with their peers as well.”
Venice’s Micah and Megan Rickles have been fostering children for the past three years and go to The Twig to get new clothes and shoes for the children they’re fostering.
“You’re taking a child into a beautiful boutique, and they feel like they are No. 1 in the eyes of everyone from the time you walk in,” Megan Rickles said .”Everybody loves them. Everybody’s so encouraging.”
Britton said only about 50% of children in foster care graduate from high school, so the nonprofit hopes it can remove some of the barriers for children and boost their self esteem through the boutiques.
“It’s important to us that every child finds something that makes them feel good about themselves,” Britton said. “We have a wide variety of styles as well as sizes.”
All the items in the shop are provided through community donations. The items are brought to a warehouse in Venice where nonprofit staff and volunteers will organize and sort the items before restocking the shops.
Unlike the shop in Venice, the boutique in East County has a multipurpose room that Britton said will be used for different purposes such as teaching children who are aging out of foster care life skills and hosting classes for foster families.
The Twig provides Twig Boxes for those who have aged out of foster care, ages 18 to 21. After they sign up on the nonprofit’s website, a box will be mailed to them. The boxes include body wash, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste and a journal in which volunteers write words of encouragement for the recipient to read.
“We want to remind them we are still here for them even once they’ve aged out of foster care,” Britton said.