What is Christmas?
If you to stop to ponder for a moment, you’ll realize there is no simple answer to what the holiday is. For some of us, Christmas is love and family. If you ask a three year old, love and family are a bit of an afterthought. To them, Christmas is joy; it’s presents and holly; and after a few seconds of intense thought, it’s trees and decorations. You see, there honestly is no one answer to what Christmas is. However, Charles M. Schulz, beloved creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, probably said it best when he said, “Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.”
And ol’ Charles wasn’t wrong, not even a little bit. This year, a lot of people did a little something extra for a bunch of little someones.
In ways we can scarcely imagine, organizations and community members alike showed up this holiday season for our kiddos in foster care. With their help, Yavapai CASA for Kids raised more than $25,000 in various toys and gifts. Meaning, the generosity of these organizations and community members gave nearly 400 children presents under the tree this Christmas. But wait! So many gave a little something extra that we had more than we knew what to do with! The myriad of gifts we received allowed us to give to families in need and organizations that work with displaced and at-risk youth.
Having this ability to make a difference and seeing a small part of it in action… it’s not easy to put into words. Mona, our Development Director, said it was as if she felt her heart growing. “You know, like the Grinch when his heart grows three sizes!”
But how do we make someone’s heart grow three sizes in a day, though? More importantly, how do we make a difference?
I can’t say that we really know how to make someone’s heart grow three sizes. What I can say is that, through our Christmas Holiday Drive, we have been making a difference for the last 16 years.
The Christmas Holiday Toy Drive is a special one. For children in care, there is a range of emotions and feelings… stress; anxiety; fear, and all of these are compounded during the holidays. The Christmas Drive is small way of alleviating some of that stress and fear. With our support, placements have the means to provide the children in their care a Christmas. Not only that, it helps eliminate some of the heartache may kinship placements have; caring for the children they love but not necessarily having the resources to provide them extras like Christmas presents. Rachel Walters-Leech, a social worker with Children and Family Support Services, says, “…Having a resource like this is extremely valuable for families; especially for those like the one I am picking up for. This family lives in an extremely rural area and is without a vehicle. So, I can help and reduce some of the the stress by them some gifts.”
Every year, to provide these families a little extra support, we place gift collection boxes in and around the community. We first reach out to organizations and locally owned businesses, asking for their support and if they would be willing to host a gift box. Upon reaching out and subsequently compiling a list, we wrap the collection boxes; preparing them to go out to the various locations. Once placed, the boxes remain out and around town for just about 4 weeks. Over the course of these weeks, they sit collecting toys and gifts purchased by members of the community. Finally, as the weeks come to a close, the boxes are collected. The toys and gifts come to central location where caseworkers, case aides, CASAs, and foster and kinship placements ‘shop’ for the children in their care.
However, the Christmas Drive would not have been possible this year without the generosity and time and effort put in by so many. The collection boxes that we set out every year? Those are gifted to us by APS. There were 75 boxes placed throughout the Tri-Cities, and that is only because of the businesses that graciously hosted us. The selflessness of community members ensured that we had the gifts we did to give out. And, organizations, speficically, the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe; Arizona Granite Mountain Rangers; Embry Riddle Aeronautical University; Kiwanis Club, undertook their own fundraising efforts, choosing YC4KF’s Christmas Drive and our foster kiddos as the recipients.
And, I can’t forget about our volunteers who made every effort to ensure that things that came together in time. With so many locations and most of us on staff having small vehicles, we weren’t quite sure how we were going to manage so many boxes and all the gifts that had accumulated in each. Thankfully, we were able to call on Gary Chaplin, Paul Goupil, and Kasia and Pete Voll. Gary, a gentleman if we’ve ever met one, was exceedingly accommodating. Donating his time; truck; and trailer; Gary drove us around to numerous locations in Prescott and helped pick up the multitude of gifts that we had collected. Paul Goupil, yet another gentlemen who took time out of his day, generously gave us the use of his truck and helped pick up from our Prescott Valley locations. Kasia and Pete Voll, coming to our rescue, coordinated with Jayne, one of our admins, and picked up from the locations in Prescott, that it not for them, we would have forgotten all about. (In our defense, 70 locations is a lot!) As Jayne said, though, “It was a lot of lifting, but we got it done!”
After all the boxes were picked up and the gifts collected, Girl Scout Troop 3145 came in like Santa’s elves. They worked through the weekend, diligently sorting and organizing the gifts; ensuring that nothing was out of place and all was ready to go for the shopping days. There were games galore, and tables filled with books and arts and crafts. Bikes, skateboards, and basketballs; footballs and soccer balls… sports equipment that every young athlete dreams of. Eye shadow pallets and make-up brushes for our teenage girls, and cologne sets and hats for our teenage boys. Science and engineering kits for the ones who dream of careers in STEM. And for the littles and littlest of littlest of littles, all the baby dolls and toys one could imagine spilled into the walkways.
We honestly can’t thank everyone enough. To take time out of their day and time away from their families, to think of our children in care… It means so much to us, but it means everything to those who work with and care for our foster youth. So, we leave you with this; a thank you from Shay, a case aide with ComTrans. “Being able to pick up toys for my families has been such a blessing. I am very excited to see the look on these children’s faces when their parents give them the presents. Thank you for supporting these kids and never giving up on them!”