A Backpack of Their Own
Lisa Hoeve: 2022 Good Neighbor Awards Honorable Mention
- After she and her husband became foster parents in 2013, Lisa Hoeve wanted to do more for kids in the child welfare system.
- Recognizing that many children had few, if any, belongings to their name when they were placed in foster care, she set out to provide backpacks filled with essential items.
- Hope Pkgs has now reached 4,400 foster children in more than 30 countries in Michigan.
Lisa Hoeve and her husband, Kevin, were already parents to five children, ages 3 to 20, when they decided the time was right to become approved as foster parents. Kevin grew up with two adopted siblings and agreed their family wouldn’t feel complete without including foster children.
In 2013, after completing the required steps to become licensed, the Hoeves began receiving foster placements. One day at 11 a.m., the Hoeve family received a call about their second foster placement—two brothers, ages 2 and 4 1/2—that would change everything.
As the hours ticked by, Lisa and the family anxiously awaited the children’s arrival, wondering if their assignment had been switched or something had gone wrong. Finally, almost 12 hours after the initial call and almost 6 hours later than expected, the two children arrived at 10:30 p.m.
The delay, the social worker explained, was because the children needed to be bathed and taken shopping. They had no belongings of their own—not even an extra set of clothes.
“She knew that she wouldn’t hear the stories of the backpacks; the important thing is that they are getting to the kids who need them” —husband, Kevin Hoeve
As Hoeve made more connections in the foster care community, she was struck and deeply saddened by the children’s common plight: showing up for their first night in foster care without even the bare essentials. No toothbrushes, socks, pajamas or clean underwear. Many toted the few possessions they had in kitchen garbage bags.
“This is real life for over 11,000 kids in foster care,” says Hoeve, referring to the state’s caseload.
After the brothers left the Hoeves’ care in 2015, Lisa knew she needed to find yet another way to help children in their position. Hoeve recalled a previous placement, two young children who arrived with a brand-new backpack full of necessities from a local church, and decided this would be a worthwhile next step in her journey.
Hoeve contacted the church to see if she could help, making clear she didn’t want to step on any toes. She had a much broader vision for filling the need. That’s when the idea for Hope Pkgs was born.
After saying goodbye to the brothers who had been in her family’s care for over two years, Hoeve was ready to go bigger with her efforts to support the foster community. She registered Hope Pkgs as a nonprofit in 2016. Her initial goal was to provide what they call First Night Bags to 70 children in the first year.
The rapid outpouring of donations and community support convinced Hoeve her initiative had much bigger potential.
Today, Hope Pkgs has helped over 4,400 foster children in more than 30 counties across Michigan. Donations come from local businesses, community drop boxes, Facebook campaigns, and contributions from people who simply have heard of what Hoeve does and reach out with supplies or financial support.
Hoeve or another volunteer picks up the items, packs them into First Night Bags, and distributes them to the intended public or private agency.
Recently, Hoeve dropped off 30 bags at the Ed & Nancy Hanenburg Children’s Advocacy Center, an organization that helps children who have disclosed sexual abuse from a family member and, as a result, been placed in foster care. “In most instances, these children have little but the clothes on their backs,” says Darcy Fluharty, the executive director. “Lisa has provided backpacks filled with clothes and care items that these kids both need and deserve while facing such a scary, unknown transition.”
Backpacks are personalized according to the age and needs of the child. They may be filled with socks, undergarments, stuffed animals, blankets, clothing, toothbrushes, diapers, wipes, shampoo, deodorant and other personal hygiene items. The organization, which previously operated out of church basements, bought a new space last December, and Hoeve hopes to expand its services into every county in Michigan.
A Community Effort, A Singular Force
Because REALTORS® “know how to get things done” in their communities, Hoeve says, she enlists the help of other agents and brokers for her cause. Twelve local businesses, including Coldwell Banker brokerages in the towns of Saugatuck, Grand Haven and Holland, house donation boxes for Hope Pkgs. Hoeve’s brokerage, Coldwell Banker Woodland Schmidt in Holland, sponsors an event to raise money for children’s charities every year and has included Hope Pkgs as a beneficiary over the past few years.
Her real estate skills and connections have also enabled her to help foster families find new homes when they need more space. She brings a special understanding of what a comfortable family home means for those in the foster world.
“As both a foster parent and a Children’s Protective Services investigator, I have been able to see the impact it has on a child who has never had anything new or to call their own. They feel that someone cares about them; they have a soft blanket or stuffed animal they can hold as they fall asleep. It provides them tangible hope in a period of deep uncertainty. We could not do what we do without Hope Pkgs.” —Danielle Yost, foster parent and Office of Child Support investigator for the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services
Hope Pkgs threw its third annual fashion show in May, hosted by Priscilla’s Boutique in Holland. Foster mothers acted as models in the event, raising money for First Night Bag supplies while community members dined and mingled.
The fashion show plays an important role in educating the community about Hope Pkgs and the challenges faced by the foster care system. As confidentiality is paramount to the safety and well-being of children in the foster care system, the public often is unaware of what children in the system face on a day-to-day basis.
Because of these privacy concerns, Hoeve rarely gets to hear about, let alone see, the impact of her work. However, a few stories have made their way back to her, including one about a 5-year-old boy who received his first-ever toothbrush in his First Night Bag.
“Lisa has the biggest heart. Not only is she an amazing mom and foster mom, but she puts her all into her nonprofit so that kids coming into care have what they need for their first night in care,” says Sarah, a fellow foster and adoptive parent.
Hoeve advises anyone who wants to get involved with foster children or the foster care system to start local—start a meal program for foster families or families who were recently reunited, consult a local house of worship, or contact a child welfare agency to find out what it needs.
She and her family have fostered four more children and provided short-term respite care to other foster families since she started Hope Pkgs in 2015. Just last year, Hoeve and her husband trained through Families Count, a family preservation organization offering classes for at-risk families. The aim is to prevent kids from entering the foster care system, and ideally, ever needing a backpack full of First Night essentials.