The Stuart store co-owned by sisters-in-law Ericah and Sabrina Brinson doesn’t work like most. There’s no charge for any item inside, shoppers are free to take as much as they’d like, and the doors are open 24/7. At Treasure Coast Foster Closet, anyone who fosters or adopts is welcome to “shop” for clothes and other necessities for the children in their care.
The process of opening the store was an organic one, says Ericah, who, along with Sabrina, was herself fostering at the time. “We would reach out on Facebook to local friends and family and say things like, ‘Hey, there’s a baby girl heading my way—anyone have an extra car seat?’” she recalls. Fellow foster families began approaching them with requests to post on their behalf too. “We found that people wanted to help foster families—they wanted to give back and be involved—they just didn’t know how.”
“People would drop off items like bouncers, clothes, and toys on our porches and say, ‘I’m sure you or another foster parent could use this,’” Sabrina says. “Our porches quickly filled with donations, and we knew we had to figure out a better way to get them to other foster families.”
In 2017, Ericah purchased a backyard shed, where the duo began storing donated items. But it quickly filled to overflowing. They turned again to Facebook, hoping to secure financial contributions toward a larger space. Within 24 hours, one generous donor funded a storage unit for the year, plus shelving and bins to house the donations. “We were blown away and knew we had made the right move,” she says.
Soon, however, they outgrew the unit. Ericah had an idea: They needed a space where they could store donations and invite foster families to shop. So they took another leap of faith and signed a lease for their current storefront on SW Monterey Road—a nerve-wracking move since Foster Closet is funded not by major grants and big donors but by community members and fundraising events.
“So many families had told us how the Closet changed their ability to foster,” Ericah says. “Not only did it provide their physical needs, but it also helped them feel seen by the community. Neither of us had experience running any sort of organization, but we knew this would be a huge asset to our community. We had no idea how we would make ends meet, but we knew that God would provide a way. And he has.”
As a child, Sabrina grew up bouncing between homes, so she had a sense of what foster children have to face. “I know what it’s like going from home to home with a trash bag,” she says. “You fit what you can and leave the rest. I know the trauma these children deal with, and I wanted to be an example that you can grow from your past and turn your trauma into helping others.” A store like Foster Closet would have been a gift to her as a child, she says.
As foster moms themselves, Sabrina and Ericah are all too familiar with the scramble of trying to gather all the necessary items for a new placement. Foster parents never know if the child walking through their door will come with belongings—and more often than not, Ericah says, they arrive with just the clothes on their backs. That’s why the Closet is open around the clock and to the whole family. But they are careful not to let others take advantage of their generosity. “We verify each family to ensure they’re a licensed foster home or an adoptive-from-foster-care family,” says Sabrina.
“Our mission is to ease the financial burden on foster parents so they can focus on the children in their care and keep saying yes to new children coming into care,” adds Sabrina, who today is a mom to four children, one of whom she and her husband adopted through fostering. “They know the Closet is here for them, and they can visit any time they have a need. We try to make it as accessible as possible so they can keep opening their homes to our community’s children.”
In the future, the Brinson women hope to expand into an even larger space and secure grant funding to provide scholarships for enrichment activities such as music lessons, dance classes, art, and sports—experiences most children in foster care have never had.
“This is such a hard calling,” says Ericha, who is raising four adopted children with her husband. “So to be able to get face-to-face with others who get it, or with volunteers who want to support you, or just walking in and seeing all of the beautiful items waiting for our kids… It’s priceless.”