In partnership with the Draper-based company, Fresh Wolf, the nonprofit organization Comfort Cases reached a new milestone as volunteers packed the 200,000th Comfort Case backpack at an event in Draper last month. Comfort Cases are backpacks filled with new items such as pajamas, socks, toiletries and stuffed animals for children and youth in foster care. The backpacks assembled in Draper were given to Brighter Futures Inc. foster care service in South Salt Lake.
Comfort Cases founder Rob Scheer was in foster care as a young teen and struggled with feelings of being unwanted. Transitioning between foster homes, he was a given a trash bag to carry his belongings. “I remember carrying a trash bag and feeling worthless, like nobody cared for me,” Scheer explained on the nonprofit’s web page.
Years later, following a stint in the U.S. Navy and a successful business career, Scheer married and became a foster parent himself. He was crestfallen to see the children walk in carrying their belongings in trash bags and was inspired to address the problem. Scheer and his husband, Reece, founded Comfort Cases in 2013 with the initial goal of replacing trash bags with backpacks in the D.C. foster care system.
Today, Comfort Cases are given out in every state as well as Puerto Rico. The nonprofit, which is 96% run by volunteers, recently expanded their services to the United Kingdom. The backpacks are distributed to foster care agencies and also police and fire departments for children who may be displaced from their homes. “We want every child in the community to understand that we love them,” Scheer said. He travels the country sharing his story and advocating for youth in foster care.
In Draper, Corner Canyon High School student Jack Barlow and his family have also been working to help local youth in foster care. In 2019, Barlow and his younger brother Henry started their own luxury grooming products company, Fresh Wolf, with the help of their parents John and Lisa Barlow. For every unit sold, Fresh Wolf donates a two-in-one body wash and shampoo to a child in foster care. The cause is close to the family’s heart as John was in foster care briefly as an infant.
Scheer, who is based in Maryland, heard about how Fresh Wolf was donating their products and reached out immediately. “It was a light bulb moment,” he said. “I thought, ‘We have to do something together.’” He contacted Lisa who appears on the Bravo network’s “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.” She was enthusiastic about the idea. The Barlow family had been supporting the charity personally even before the connection with Fresh Wolf was established.
“I had the pleasure of doing a Zoom call and podcast with Rob,” Jack Barlow explained. “He’s just a really great guy.” The topic of the podcast, “Fostering Change,” was the importance of partnerships and corporate involvement.
Volunteers gathered in a gym at Treehouse Athletic Club in Draper on Jan. 7 to pack 300 Comfort Cases destined for Brighter Futures Inc. With a bit of ceremony to mark the auspicious event, Scheer and the Barlows packed the 200,000th backpack together.
Among the volunteers were some of Jack’s friends from Corner Canyon High School. Seniors Max Summerhays and Joey Ballard were happy to be there. “We’re here to support,” Summerhays said. “It’s a good opportunity.”
Jack recognizes the fact that boys in foster care are sometimes overlooked and don’t have many things to call their own. Giving back makes him feel good. “It feels great,” he said. “I’ve been able to meet some of the kids we’ve brought Fresh Wolf to. It’s been awesome.”
The Barlows and Scheer are keenly aware that much more needs to be done on a societal level to help youth in foster care. Children in foster care are more likely to suffer from PTSD. Only 54% graduate from high school and many will experience homelessness and unemployment as adults.
“What do we do with kids who age out of the system?” Lisa asked rhetorically. She was referring to the 23,000 young people nationwide who are left without permanent connections to a stable family when they turn 18 and no longer receive state assistance for food and shelter.
Scheer spoke of the importance of preparing youth for aging out and has suggested a potential solution in which states require foster families to put a percentage of the stipend they receive in a savings account for the child. “We can’t wait until a kid turns 17,” he said.
In the meantime, Comfort Cases and Fresh Wolf will continue to do their part to bring a little comfort to vulnerable children and youth in foster care. To learn more and make a donation to the cause, visit comfortcases.org.