This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.
Alex and Elizabeth Grimes, our July Vermonters of the Month, describe the past six years as a “whirlwind of emotion.” May 5, 2013 is the day that forever changed their lives when their nearly 5-month-old son Tatum passed away from SIDS. While grieving his loss, Elizabeth found herself the Vermont Department for Children and Families’ website and rediscovered her purpose in life. The Grimes family decided to honor Tatum by becoming foster parents and creating their nonprofit Tatum’s Totes in his memory. Now, the Grimes’ have seven beautiful children and support others in foster care by proving totes with essential and comfort items like blankets, stuffed animals, diapers, toothbrushes, and books.
Elizabeth says, “Losing Tatum is a pain we feel every day, but every day we try to honor him.” Tatum’s Totes is dedicated to helping children in foster care one tote at a time.
We visited Alex, Elizabeth and their children at their home in Rutland to hear more about their journey as foster parents and learn more about the impact of Tatum’s Totes.
Tell us a little about yourselves, your son Tatum, and your journey to becoming foster parents.
Both Alex and I are from Rutland Town, Vermont. Our oldest child, Emma, was four years old when we found out we were expecting our second. On December 7, 2012, we were surprised to welcome a little boy into our family, Tatum James Grimes. He was 8 lbs. 2 oz., 19.5 inches long, and was perfect. Tatum looked grumpy all of the time, but when he smiled it was the sweetest little smile. He rarely cried. He liked to just sit and watch what everyone was doing. We were so proud of him and how well he was adjusting. Sleep was even easy with him. He slept perfectly in his own crib.
Our family was doing well, Emma was enjoying being a new big sister and Alex was promoted at work and landed a new day job which allowed for more time with our family. Everything changed on May 4, 2013. We had family over to help build a new deck and we were outside working while Tatum was napping. A few minutes after checking on Tatum, the crew started up the saw. Knowing this would wake Tatum, I went back in the house to get him. I saw Tatum’s hand through the railing and I knew something was wrong. Tatum wasn’t breathing. We believe everyone did everything they could that day to save Tatum, and while his heart started again, it wasn’t enough. Tatum was taken off of life support on May 5, 2013 at 11:00 AM.
Days passed. Weeks passed. I cried. I screamed. I felt like my heart was physically broken. During all of this, I stumbled on the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) website and I knew what I needed to do. I needed to become a foster parent. I needed to help children, and love them, and protect them. I called the Rutland District DCF Office and set up a meeting. I am so thankful for a supportive husband who agreed to do this with me. In his own grief he always knew how to be there for me through mine.
Eight weeks after losing Tatum, I met with DCF and felt I may have a path in life again. It was a path as a grieving mother, but at least I had some sort of direction. Two weeks later, our journey as foster parents began when I picked up two children from the DCF Office and brought them home with me.
Why did you start Tatum’s Totes?
The idea of Tatum’s Totes came from my first experience as a foster parent. When I went to the DCF Office to meet the two children Alex and I would be caring for, we were greeted by a police officer and a case worker with two small children who had no shoes and tear-streaked faces. Between the two children, ages three and one, they had a toy fire truck and a plastic bag with some diapers thrown in. That’s all they came with.
Alex and I started Tatum’s Totes four years ago to provide children entering foster care in Vermont with essential and comfort items. The children we serve are given a backpack filled with new items, including blankets, stuffed animals, toothbrushes, pajamas, toys, books, school and art supplies, etc. We try to tailor the bags to different age groups. For babies, we provide diaper bags filled with baby items. For teens, we fill the bags with age-appropriate items and gift cards.
Has Tatum’s Totes evolved over the years?
Our hope is to be able to cover the whole state of Vermont one day, but we are successfully covering eight DCF Districts right now. We have a lot of support from the community, including some wonderful ladies covering different areas of the state, and Green Mountain United Way which covers three Districts in the northern part of Vermont. I myself cover Rutland and Middlebury.
What has been the impact of Tatum’s Totes in the community, and what does that impact mean to you?
Tatum’s Totes is expanding each year. We run a huge Christmas program where people can buy for a child in foster care. We covered over 500 foster children this past year for Christmas. It grows every year. We have helped pay for summer camps, and have gotten cribs, strollers, and car seats for new foster parents. We have helped struggling parents with new school clothes and so much more. I am proud to be Tatum’s Mommy and proud to honor him. This has helped my and Alex’s broken hearts so much. Giving back to the community is truly our pleasure and I hope we can continue to grow bigger and bigger. Everyone’s support, donations, fundraising events, and positive thoughts are so appreciated. The community has made this possible.
What advice do you have for other Vermonters looking to make an impact in their community?
I have learned over the years that there are so many easy ways to make a difference in this world. Little things really amount to big things. Finding a passion and advocating for it, spreading the word and teaching people about it, including more people and asking for help can make any little idea a success. Whether it’s foster care, rescuing animals, supporting our veterans and so many other things, if everyone just did a little it would make this world a better place.