Months ago, child welfare caseworkers and foster parents began asking the state’s foster children, What would you like for the holidays?
For children and teenagers in foster care, holidays can be a particularly tough time, as they are separated from their biological families and might not receive a gift for the holidays. In recent years, Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS), along with community organizations, local businesses and everyday Oklahomans, have worked to make the holidays a little bit brighter for foster children by collecting new toys and clothes to distribute in December.
Each fall, caseworkers and foster parents record the gift desires of youth and create a wish list. In November, DHS distributes the wish lists to community organizations, which lead gift drives that ultimately end with holiday presents in the hands of foster children.
“I don’t really think I can, in words, articulate the impact that a simple thing like someone willing to take on a wish list and meet the needs of a child can have,” Deb Shropshire, a pediatrician and deputy director of DHS child welfare and community partnerships, told Oklahoma Gazette. “The impact carries throughout the year. It is not just a December 25 impact. It’s more than five minutes of opening up presents and looking at all these toys or new clothes. It really has a ripple effect on the whole system.”
Each fall, various community organizations and businesses contact DHS to receive wish lists. This holiday season, Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) joins OK Foster Wishes in reaching 6,000 children in foster care across more than 50 counties with holiday gifts.
“During this very tough time with our economy and with our state budget problems that we are facing, foster parents need this help more than ever,” explained Joe Dorman, who serves as the CEO of OICA, which works to support child well-being in the Sooner State. “You have to remember foster parents are volunteers. They get a stipend to help them with these duties, but they offer up their home for kids to provide a place for them with love and care. It is touching to know so many Oklahomans will step up and provide a happy Christmas, happy Hanukkah or whatever the holiday might be. Oklahomans are providing a happy time for these kids and letting them know there is someone who cares for them.”
From now through Dec. 6, OICA is encouraging the community to donate either monetarily or purchase a gift or gifts from a child’s wish list. By visiting okfosterwishes.org, individuals can make monetary contributions or sign up to receive a wish list from a foster child. The suggested donation is $75.
“You will see kids that have put down a range of items from bicycles to game stations,” Dorman said. “Some kids — and this is what breaks your heart — put down socks or a coat. It is really heartwarming and heartrending at the same time to see what some of these requests are.”
In the Oklahoma City metro, local businesses like Buy For Less, Uptown Grocery, Bob Moore Subaru and Oklahoma Employees Credit Union are serving as gift drop-off locations. Gifts will later be taken to a warehouse space donated by Feed the Children. At the warehouse, OICA staff and volunteers will sort gifts to be distributed to DHS caseworkers, who will deliver the gifts to the children.
Any extra gifts will be either donated to other organizations conducting similar foster children gift drives for DHS or shared directly with DHS. In December, DHS operates a Santa Shop for foster parents and caseworkers to shop for children and teens who come into foster care past the deadline for completing wish lists.
The DHS wish lists go beyond just new toys and clothing, as the program has brought exposure to the state’s foster care program, explained Shropshire.
“It is a really important program for us because it provides a way for the community to not just meet a need at Christmas but to actually become engaged in understanding there are children in our state who don’t have permanent homes,” Shropshire said. “We’ve seen a number of families who ultimately started by filling wish lists and later became foster families or served in more extensive ways for children in foster care. We see it as, in a sense, a starting place for people to engage in child welfare.”
According to Oklahoma Foster initiative, there were 8,954 children in DHS custody and 606 children waiting on forever families as of Nov. 15. Further, the state needs 1,080 foster families to care for children in state custody.
OICA has an ambitious goal to deliver holiday gifts to 6,000 foster children and teens; however, leaders are confident past donors as well as new donors will step up to answer the call, explained Dorman.
“So many of these kids have been through horrible situations, and the brightness that you can bring to their lives,” Dorman said, “it means much more and will make a difference.”
Contact OICA at 405-236-5437 or visit okfosterwishes.org.
Print Headline; Holiday Wishes: OICA and OK Foster Wishes are on a mission to spread holiday cheer to foster youth in the state and need the community’s help.