When Linda Mackanesi’s foster children came to her 3 1/2 years ago, no suitcases came along with them.
“They had nothing,” the Schenectady resident recalled. “They had dirty diapers and summer clothes, and it was wintertime.”
Mackanesi, who was 55 at the time, had never been a parent and had no idea what was needed to take care of the infant and toddler she was suddenly charged with mothering.
“When you become a foster parent, it’s instantaneous. You don’t have any prep. You have nobody going, ‘Oh, you’ll need this, let’s grab it,’ ” she said.
Her saving grace was The Quest for Grace Foundation, a Schenectady nonprofit that provides foster children with gently used clothing, equipment and toys — all free of charge.
Mackanesi scheduled a visit and went home with car seats, a Pack ‘n Play, high chairs and clothing.
“Not just socks and underwear, not just toys; it was things I desperately needed,” she said.
Created in 2005 by former foster parents Michele and Louis Ianniello, the foundation has grown from a basement operation to a sizeable store on Erie Boulevard that serves about 1,000 foster children annually. Demand for services is great right now, Michele Ianniello said.
“We have foster parents drive an hour. They’ll come from Warren County, all over the Capital Region,” she said. “We have a lot of grandparents taking care of grandchildren on a fixed income and it’s really hard, so what we do is we kind of give them a bit of a jump-start.”
It’s not uncommon for foster children to come into a home with just the clothes on their back, and foster parents often struggle to pull together a wardrobe and other essentials.
“When I was a foster parent, I was getting $12 a day to care for my foster child. We used so much of our own money and I would think, ‘How do people do it that live paycheck-to-paycheck?’ ” Michele Ianniello said.
The foundation came to be after the Ianniellos’ foster daughter was returned to her biological family. Still interested in contributing to the foster care system, the couple decided to help other foster parents. They funded the foundation for its first few years. Now it runs with the help of grants, fundraisers, generous donors and volunteers.
The Quest for Grace Foundation store is spacious, bright and full of clothing that looks brand new. Beyond the main showroom are more rooms: one full of clothing and shoes for teens, a coat room for infants and one for older kids, a room full of newborn accessories, another full of shoes and boots, and still another full of toys.
Along with material things, Quest for Grace offers an example of kindness and generosity.
“These are children that not only get pulled away from their parents, but they’ve seen, sometimes, awful things. A lot of times these children haven’t really been shown kindness,” Michele Ianniello said. “When I have kids come in and you see a child get excited over receiving deodorant or body lotion, or you give a child a used pair of sneakers and they tell you they’re the nicest shoes they’ve ever had, it really puts some perspective on how so many of us have so much and others have so little.”
After Mackanesi adopted her foster children, she began donating their outgrown clothing to Quest for Grace. While dropping some off on a recent Thursday, she praised Michele Ianniello for her contribution to the community.
“She is like a godsend for foster children,” she said. “Foster children are like the forgotten people. People kind of just [say,] ‘Oh well, now you’re here and goodbye.’ And she allows them not to be forgotten.”
It’s gratifying work, Michele Ianniello said.
“At first you think, ‘I’m the giver,’ but really, you’re the one who gets more back in return,” she explained. “When a child leaves and they hug me and I don’t even know them and they’re treating me like it’s Christmas, that gives me such a wonderful feeling.”
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