Cooped up in her house in Randolph, N.J., last week, junior Isabel Litterst watched the news in despair as it told stories of the many lives turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. But rather than continuing with her routine quarantine schedule, Litterst decided to take action, and within three hours, Foster a Family was born.
Foster a Family is a platform for people to sign up to either give or receive help during the COVID-19 crisis. After people sign up, Litterst pairs helpers and those in need of help based on the provided information.
“On the website, there’s a get involved section, and there’s two different Google Forms: the Find a Helper form and the Helper form,” said Litterst. “Depending on what you’re interested in participating in, you fill out that form. I receive that information, and then I am pairing people up based on their needs and matching them based on where they overlap and what somebody can help with and what somebody is looking for.”
Litterst, MCAS ’21, said that she has been impressed with many other efforts raising funds for those in need but said that many of the campaigns may not be taking the best approach.
“I’ve seen a lot of willingness for people to help in a variety of ways on various social media,” Litterst said. “But a lot of those efforts felt somewhat disjointed, and that doesn’t seem like an effective way to connect those who want to help with those who need help.”
Instead of basing her website solely on raising money, Litterst said she wanted Foster a Family to have a personal touch, which she believes makes it special. Once a pair is made, the website leaves it up to the participants to communicate with each other.
“What’s unique about it is that once we’ve made the connection between the helpers and those who are looking for assistance, the responsibility is really on them to make that personal connection and get to know each other and establish trust,” she said. “I feel like it’s a more personalized approach as opposed to just donating money into a general fund.”
Helpers with Foster a Family can sign up to help with a variety of issues facing those in need, from grocery delivery to financial assistance.
“I realized that some of the services are location specific, like groceries, grocery delivery or childcare,” she said. “So it would really be wonderful for people from a variety of communities to sign up so that I can match people in those ways.”
Foster a Family went live last week and currently has approximately 20 people who have filled out either of the two forms. Of the people who have signed up so far, there are more willing to help than looking for help.
“I have definitely found people willing to help more than people looking for help, which is why I really want to get this out there, because I think it’s so important for people to have that resource,” Litterst said.
Litterst said her biggest hope for Foster a Family is that it makes the social distancing more bearable for those who are struggling to make ends meet.
“The hope for Foster a Family is that we can bring people together to support each other during these unprecedented times,” Litterst said. “I think we might be really socially distant right now, but I see a desperate need for this personal connection.”
As for her inspiration to create Foster a Family, Litterst said that the lessons of kindness taught by Mr. Rogers, the legendary children’s television personality, have played a large part.
“I think a lot of this links back to the Jesuit ideals—men and women for others,” she said. “My whole inspiration for the website came from Mr. Rogers, who I’m a huge fan of. And I love his quote ‘Look for the helpers.’ I just think that’s so important right now, and I wanted to create a platform where people could look for the helpers, find them, and feel like they have made a connection with someone during this time.”
Featured Image by Madeleine Romance / Heights Editor