By MaryCatherine Karcich, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – What began as a homegrown charity has blossomed into a nonprofit aimed to give children comfort in an unfamiliar place.
Husband and wife Jay and Heather Johnston are the compassionate individuals behind Kits for Kids, an organization that assembles “comfort kits” for children who are taken into foster care without any of their belongings. The kits include a plastic container full of clothing, toys and hygienic supplies.
The Johnstons originally set out to help kids who didn’t have a Christmas, but that idea quickly grew into helping foster kids once they realized the need. The children’s ages range from infancy to age 20.
Stores like Target, CVS and Walgreens play a major role in helping Jay and Heather stock up on supplies. Post-holiday sales are a huge hit where they find discounted goods. They also accept handmade items such as blankets.
Kits for Kids has experienced generous growth and change since its start in the Johnstons’ condo 12 years ago. The organization moved its operations to a storage facility and over the past year received its nonprofit status. The early days maxed out at 300 to 400 kits a year, but 2017 saw 2,000 kits distributed. Half of those were the actual kits while the other half were Christmas stockings given to children of the Boys and Girls Club of Marlborough and to Girls, Inc. of Worcester.
N Beyond foster care, Kits for Kids assists mothers who are in facilities with newborns and young children. Their kits also go to children of very low-income families.
Jay and Heather enjoy promoting their work through events and collaborations. Along with the Boys and Girls Club of Marlborough and Girls, Inc., Kits for Kids has worked with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Franklin, local Hallmark stores, and most recently, Framingham State University. They even expanded outside of the community to Vermont and Connecticut, and donated kits for Hurricane Harvey relief.
“We want to be able to fulfill the need here in Metrowest, and we want to be able to expand to neighboring cities and states in the area,” Jay explained.
A year-round organization, Kits for Kids is open to volunteers anytime. Currently, they have around 15 volunteers who offer their time on Saturdays to assemble kits.
“We prepare every month as if we’re donating for a Christmas month because there’s such a huge need. I think it’s important that people should think about giving back besides during the holiday season. We take a lot of pride in doing that, that we can do this year-round,” Heather said.
The couple typically does not witness a child opening a kit, but they have seen reactions in photographs. It’s enough to arouse a wave of emotion from Jay and Heather, knowing that they could make a great impact on young lives.
Kits for Kids is on the verge of outgrowing its three units and when the time is right, they would like to expand. They are always looking for monetary contributions and donations of new, unused supplies.
As the couple prepares for an upcoming event in April, they’re hopeful that they will exceed last year’s goal to continue helping children in need.
For more information on Kits for Kids or to donate, visit https://www.buildkits.org/.