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Gingerbread Tree Program brings a smile to the faces of adults, children alikeDate: 12/09/2016
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Hanging from a large Christmas tree in the Central Offices of the Arkansas Department of Human Services in mid-November were more than 300 paper ornaments in the shape of a gingerbread man.
Each decoration represented a foster child between the ages of 12 months and 12 years. The name of a boy or girl, age, ethnicity, home-county, clothing sizes and a “wish list” of three preferred gifts of the child were listed on each one.
Employees, their families and friends agreed to sponsor a child – and some chose sibling groups – to ensure these vulnerable kids who might not find a lot of joy this holiday season would have some reason to smile.
“At this time of year, DHS employees both inside and outside the Division of Children and Family Services have an opportunity to impact a child in a very tangible way,” said DCFS Division Director Mischa Martin. “The smiles they have on their faces when they bring in bags of toys and other gifts are contagious! It’s a wonderful way to spread the Christmas spirit to those we work with, those we care for in the child welfare system, and our communities as a whole.”
There are upward of 5,200 youths in Arkansas currently in foster care. Through no fault of their own, they are brought into care, sometimes with nothing other than the clothes on their backs. Taken from their home, oftentimes their schools and churches, it can be a sad time to be away from what’s familiar despite the circumstances. While many foster kids will receive gifts from either a foster family or through a community outreach project, some reside in counties where resources are limited and opportunities to receive a quality gift are scarce.
This week, bikes have been rolling into DHS offices across the state, along with Barbies, Tonka trucks, books, stuffed animals and toys of every type. Meanwhile, fundraisers were held throughout the year, culminating with the Holiday Bazaar, for the purchase of high-ticket items and gift cards preferred by teens. And for a second consecutive year, nearly $10,000 was raised for adolescents in the child welfare system in Arkansas. In the next two weeks, the gifts will be delivered by family service workers to the kids in their care.
“The sparkle in a child’s eye when they see the brightly wrapped packages and find a much-hoped for gift can bring a tear to mine,” said Martin. “And we are callled to care for and love these children as our own, especially at this time of year.”
It’s through the generosity of DHS employees and others – but especially the hard work by Olivia Bates, Darlene McClendon, Keith Metz, Tricia Persons and Velma Sorrows who coordinate the program – that Christmas will be a little brighter for these tender hearts. If you would like to donate, you can still do so by calling Keith Metz at 501-683-2040.
A collection of Christmas gifts, provided by DHS sponsors, will soon be distributed to various youth in the state foster care system.