Project Lemonade Helps Portland’s Foster Community

Project Lemonade ensures Portland's foster children start class each year with a new wardrobe.

There are an estimated 13,000 foster children in Oregon. Thirteen thousand children in the Beaver State being raised by new families. Thirteen thousand children starting anew in their lives, getting second, third, fourth chances at being part of a happy family.

And one quintet of University of Oregon alumnae determined to give them all a practical—yet fashionable—self-esteem boost.

Two years ago, Rhonda Meadows ’81, Janet Smith Cathcart ’82, Austin Blythe ’11, Cynthia Fraser ’80, and Cheryl McElroy ’86 founded Project Lemonade, a 501 (c)(3) organization with one simple mission: to host an annual back-to-school event for Oregon’s foster children to provide them with clothing, shoes, and accessories.

“Rhonda worked full time and had a huge passion for foster kids,” said Cathcart, who works full time herself while also serving as Project Lemonade’s treasurer. “She had a foster child while she was working full time and raising three kids, and she knew she wanted to do something more. When the Department of Human Services stopped providing clothing for the 13,000 foster kids in Oregon, she said we had to do something. She gathered her friends from the UO, and we founded Project Lemonade.”

Project Lemonade accepts donations of new or nearly new clothing from members of the community, and companies such as Nike and Columbia. Retail space is donated each year, and converted into a special store where the only customers are children between the ages of five and 20, and their foster parents.

“We set up a temporary retail store so foster children can feel like they’re shopping at Nordstrom’s,” Cathcart said.

In its first year, Project Lemonade served 1,400 children. This year, the number rose to 1,800, and thanks to the tireless work of Project Lemonade, could rise even higher in 2014. All of Project Lemonade’s employees are volunteers, and all donate their time for one simple reason.

“To see these kids’ faces, it’s incredible,” Cathcart said. “They are so excited to have new clothes.”

“We visited the store… and not only did our kids find some great sporty new items to wear to school, we overheard another family foster teen daughter say in tears, “I’ve never had clothes this nice before,” and went on to say she had never been able to shop like that before,” said one foster mother from Clackamas County. “It means so much to these kids to be able to ‘fit in’ and have things like everyone else.”

Learn more about Project Lemonade.