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Local nonprofit wants to provide durable grocery carts to assist emancipated foster youth

·5 min read

For Sacramentan Jordan Yang, home life has always been synonymous with instability and strife.

Taken by county child protective services from his parents as a toddler, Yang spent 16 years in the state foster care system being passed from family to family, 13 in all by his estimate.

He learned a harsh lesson. Not everyone is nice. One family “spanked” him by snapping him with rubber bands. He learned not to trust people.

When he’d meet his next “family,” he wondered about them, and about society in general: “Do you care about me? Are you sure you are here to help me?”

Sacramento area residents have the chance to answer that question for Yang, now 19 and living on his own, as well as for many other former foster youths this holiday season.

That chance comes via The Sacramento Bee’s Book of Dreams and a statewide nonprofit called Aspiranet that acts as a safety net for newly minted “adults” between the ages of 18 and 21.

Aspiranet is asking for donations to allow it to buy Yang and other former foster kids a simple but meaningful gift: foldable heavy-duty metal grocery carts on wheels. Most Aspiranet clients don’t have cars. So some roll their supermarket’s shopping carts home from stores, then leave them on apartment complex grounds, prompting apartment managers to complain.

Or, refrigerators go largely empty. “They’ll put milk and bread in a backpack and that’s all they can carry,” local Aspiranet director Alexis Peters said.

In its request, which seeks 80 carts at a cost of $60 each, Aspiranet points out there are more than 500 former foster young adults between the ages 18-21 in the region today. “These former foster youth, who are now young adults, are preparing to maintain self-sufficiency without the normal supports of a biological family,” the request states.

Aspiranet’s overall goal is to offer temporary financial support and to teach life skills so that people like Yang will not fall into homelessness, prostitution, drugs or crime.

“The local safety net is already overburdened by region-wide economic hardship,” states Peters in the group’s application to Book of Dreams. “Aspiranet seeks to ensure that all participants leave our program with the supports in place to meet their obligations as young adults, and achieve success in their lives and the workforce.”

For Yang, Aspiranet provides stability he has lacked in his life, ever since the day he calls “the day of the door incident.”

He was two years old, living with his family in Bakersfield. His parents were fighting. He remembers the front door breaking in. It was police, he thinks, responding to a domestic dispute call. They took him from his parents and put him into the state’s foster care program.

Talking with The Bee recently at the kitchen table in his spare south Sacramento apartment, Yang said he is grateful to have been accepted into Aspiranet’s transitional support.

“I thought no one would give me any chances,” he said. “Aspiranet is keeping me thinking forward.”

The agency pays the apartment rent for him and another young former foster youth. Aspiranet also gives him a small monthly living stipend, and provides him with a “life coach” who meets with him once a week at his apartment to talk about job applications and his progress at Sacramento City College while keeping up on his mental health counseling, and teaching him the basics of independent adult living.

“We spent an hour on how to clean the apartment,” Aspiranet life coach Courtney Gilbertsen said. “I showed him what products to use.”

Aspiranet life coach Courtney Gilbertsen helps client Jordan Wang with some paperwork at his apartment on Nov. 17. Aspiranet’s overall goal is to offer temporary financial support and to teach life skills so people like Yang will not fall into homelessness. The agency pays the rent for him and another young former foster youth.
Aspiranet life coach Courtney Gilbertsen helps client Jordan Wang with some paperwork at his apartment on Nov. 17. Aspiranet’s overall goal is to offer temporary financial support and to teach life skills so people like Yang will not fall into homelessness. The agency pays the rent for him and another young former foster youth.

A grocery cart would be great, Yang said. He loves to cook and to eat healthy food, but even the simple task of feeding himself is problematic. Neither he, his roommate nor other young people in the Aspiranet transitional program have cars.

Every week or so, Yang will walk a half-mile or so to Greenhaven Drive to catch a bus to ride 2.5 miles to the Smart & Final grocery store on Freeport Boulevard. It’s a hassle.

“I can only carry so much,” he said. If he buys too much, he says, he has to stop at times to put the groceries on the sidewalk when his arms get tired. With the foldable cart, he can take it on a bus to the store and back.

Peters, the Sacramento-area Aspiranet director, said the grocery cart request is modest – at $4,800 – but it is meaningful. It’s a tangible tool that not only delivers the food, but delivers a broader message for people like Yang, who sometimes feel that society is stacked against them. Not everyone is nice. But not everyone is indifferent.

“It gives me hope that society is not as bad as it seems,” Yang said.

Jordan Wang carries groceries after shopping at a nearby grocery store, a bus ride away from his Pocket area apartment on Friday, Nov. 19. Aspiranet is asking Book of Dreams readers for donations to purchase 80 foldable metal grocery carts for their clients who don’t have cars.
Jordan Wang carries groceries after shopping at a nearby grocery store, a bus ride away from his Pocket area apartment on Friday, Nov. 19. Aspiranet is asking Book of Dreams readers for donations to purchase 80 foldable metal grocery carts for their clients who don’t have cars.

How you can help

For more than three decades, The Bee has asked readers to provide a gentle lift to Sacramento organizations helping the needy during the holiday season. Last year, more than $200,000 was raised to help 32 community organizations. To help in this year’s Book of Dreams campaign, you can make a donation at: Sacbee.com/bookofdreams

Donate now

To claim a tax deduction for 2021, donations must be postmarked by Dec. 31, 2021. All contributions are tax-deductible and none of the money received will be spent on administrative costs. Partial contributions are welcome on any item. In cases where more money is received than requested for a given need, the excess will be applied to meeting unfulfilled needs in this Book of Dreams. Funds donated in excess of needs listed in this book will fulfill wishes received but not published and will be donated to social service agencies benefiting children at risk. The Sacramento Bee has verified the accuracy of the facts in each of these cases and we believe them to be bona fide cases of need. However, The Bee makes no claim, implied or otherwise, concerning their validity beyond the statement of these facts.
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