Group to aid foster children with assistance from….Captain Underpants

Zoey and Layla Carreon hold up a collection box at Knot Just Hair in Sebring for Operation Captain Underpants, an effort by Ohio CAN Change Addiction Now Columbiana County to collect underwear, socks, T-shirts, sports bras and personal hygiene products such as shampoo, conditioner, toothpastes and toothbrushes, along with backpacks, to help supply foster and kinship children in the area with basic needs. Other drop-off points include the Salem Police Department, Ice Cream Parlor and Xtreme Kleen, all in Salem, and Tangier in Struthers. The deadline for dropping off items is Feb. 29. For information, contact organizer Brenda Hamilton of Ohio CAN Change Addiction Now Columbiana County at 330-277-9625. (Photo provided by Brenda Hamilton)

SALEM — Imagine a child, taken by authorities to stay with relatives, carrying nothing but the clothes they’re wearing — that’s reality for a lot of area kids and that’s who Brenda Hamilton from Ohio CAN Change Addiction Now Columbiana County wants to help.

The Salem area woman who’s been shining a light on drug addiction and resources available for families and their loved ones battling addiction has been reaching out to help foster and kinship children with basic needs.

Enter Operation Captain Underpants.

“I’ve met so many people raising their grandkids, a lot on fixed incomes,” Hamilton said.

Operation Captain Underpants is an effort to supply children in foster care or living with grandparents or aunts and uncles with underwear, socks, T-shirts, sports bras sizes 2T through adult large, personal care products such as shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorants, body sprays and even backpacks to carry their belongings.

Items are being collected through Feb. 29 at collection boxes located at the Salem Police Department, Ice Cream Parlor and Xtreme Kleen, all in Salem, Knot Just Hair in Sebring, and Tangier in Struthers. Donors can also contact Hamilton directly at 330-277-9625 to donate items. Donated items will go to the Columbiana County Department of Job and Family Services to distribute to kids going into foster care or kinship care.

Kinship deals with children who are sent to stay with relatives away from their parents, many times due to substance abuse.

“Everybody suffers,” Hamilton said when it comes to substance abuse and drug addiction.

When children have to be removed from a home for any reason, efforts are made to keep them with family, but she said many times family members don’t have the resources readily available when a child is dropped off. Having some of the basics sent with them can help. She said she can’t imagine being in the shoes of a grandmother getting a set of twin babies, or an aunt and uncle or cousin having to care for a child or multiple children at age 55 and entering parenthood again.

She said some aren’t part of the system through DJFS, with some families not going through official channels.

According to the website at www.adoptuskids.org, which includes an outline for Ohio foster care and adoption guidelines, “on any given day in Ohio, nearly 16,000 children are being cared for away from their parents. More than 9,000 of them are living with foster parents. The rest of them are in residential care or living with friends or relatives, who are sometimes referred to as kinship caregivers.”

Hamilton said a lot of times, kids may have issues, including sensory issues or autism. She’s also been putting together what she calls “calming bags” full of items like fidget spinners, I Spy cards or other items to keep children occupied. She plans to provide those to DJFS also.

Hamilton has a favorite quote, credited online to Steve Maraboli, that she felt was appropriate for this project to help children, saying “a kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.”

In this case, people can help both the children and their caregivers by donating some basics. So far, she said they’ve gotten quite a few donations.

“It takes a community, I really believe that,” she said.

At the beginning of March , she said Ohio CAN Change Addiction Now Columbiana County will start having meetings for kinship/foster families. Anyone with questions can reach out to Hamilton at 330-277-9625 or via social media.

The Columbiana County chapter of Ohio CAN started in 2014 and in April will celebrate six years of helping families affected by substance abuse. Hamilton has been there from the beginning, trying to help families by bringing attention to the problems caused by substance abuse, and spreading the message that there are paths to recovery, resources are available and there is hope.