Kansas City, Missouri, resident Larry sought to regain custody of his three children under age 10 from Missouri Children’s Division foster care when fire gutted his place, leaving him homeless. The blaze destroyed all his belongings, including beds and other furniture the state regards as essential to properly care for children.
The state social worker, however, knew of CarePortal and posted Larry’s needs on its website, sending a clarion call to dozens of Jackson County churches active in helping foster children. Within days, Kansas City’s Evangel Church provided Larry’s family two dressers and queen-sized mattresses, bedside tables, a couch, a love seat, end tables and lamps, a kitchen dinette set, and household goods.
These key provisions have brought Larry closer to reuniting with his family. Through CarePortal, Larry also has connected with a church, which is providing him with ongoing support and stands ready to minister to the children.
Often children enter the foster care system for lack of elements deemed crucial to their well-being — elements that have more to do with poverty than abuse or neglect. For instance, a mom loses her job because she doesn’t have enough money to repair her car and falls behind on rent and utilities. Or a child lags in school because of hunger and a lack of clothing and essential supplies.
CarePortal, part of the Global Orphan Project, provides a means to let churches know of and respond to the needs, keeping families united. Through CarePortal, an unemployed parent has a car repair paid for, enabling her to find work to pay rent and bills. A child gets a backpack containing clothing and supplies. A family in need receives grocery gift cards that provide food.
CarePortal facilitates ministry by using innovative technology to enable the community to move to action to care for vulnerable kids and families, according to Scott Platter, executive director of Kansas City-based CarePortal, which since its 2014 inception has spread to 28 states. “The church is at the middle of this,” Platter says.
The most active area in the nation is Jackson County, Missouri, which includes Kansas City. There, 62 congregations across denominations meet needs posted on the site, according to Jessica Latta, CarePortal’s regional manager. Since 2017, the ministry has served more than 3,600 children in Jackson County alone.
And now, Jackson County CarePortal has its own convenient smartphone app so those approved as “on-ramps” — such as foster care case managers, state-contracted agency workers, hospitals, drug rehab centers, school districts, nongovernmental organizations that minister to families, plus other workers and volunteers privy to families who lack essentials — can get the word out about needs so that churches, also via the website or app, can help even more readily.
The most active CarePortal congregation within the Assemblies of God is Evangel Church, Latta says. Often Evangel helps with shipping or delivering goods to families, connecting in person with families and following up afterward. Evangel not only regularly fulfills posted needs, but also provides a venue where Latta hosts quarterly meetings, and extends care to county case workers in challenging jobs with typical annual turnover of 50%. Evangel’s ministry to bless these workers includes checking on their well-being and bringing them lunch.
Latta identifies the key to a church’s involvement: “It’s finding a point person to take the lead who has a heart for children and families in the foster care system,” she says.
At Evangel, that person is Rachel Hosterman who, with her husband, has foster-adopted four kids. They sensed a burden to encourage foster care at the church.
“CarePortal was a really good avenue to get us involved in that process,” says Nicole Werth, who, along with Hosterman, serves as an Evangel CarePortal coordinator.
Although Jackson County has the nation’s most active CarePortal, Latta estimates only about two-thirds of posted requests are filled. That’s because there still aren’t enough congregations to meet all the needs. The ministry’s leadership takes care to avoid churches becoming overwhelmed, burning out, and ending involvement. In contrast, slow growth enables CarePortal to expand in scale.
Werth notes that those in churches connected to CarePortal can let needs be known via their own social media. She often posts requests, especially for in-kind donations, on her community’s Facebook page.
Even those not affiliated with a church can fill a request through the website. Anybody can browse the app or website and search for somebody needing a couch, for example.
Brian West, regional director of Jackson County Children’s Division of Missouri Department of Social Services, notes the importance of public child welfare and faith-based organizations partnership, for which CarePortal has created a bridge for families to get essential help.
“Families in Jackson County have received countless beds, cribs, gas cards, and utility assistance and more through these requests,” West says. “Oftentimes this can make all the difference to a family and help them stay together. We can’t thank CarePortal enough for their support and commitment to Missouri’s most vulnerable families.”