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With one big party and a lot of gifts, this nonprofit brightens Christmas for hundreds in foster care
12252019 holidays
Josh Welch, a local child welfare attorney, greets children in foster care while dressed up as an elf for the Hall is Home for the Holidays Christmas celebration on Dec. 15, 2019. Photo courtesy Ari Mathe.

Hall is Home decided that no wish was too big for local children in foster care this holiday season. 

This year’s effort involved not just delivering personalized gifts to the kids, but also bringing Christmas cheer with a holiday celebration. 

Ari Mathe, child welfare attorney, said Hall is Home is an initiative that sparked from the need for more local foster homes in Hall. 

Mathe founded the initiative, which is a partnership among officials from the Hall County Division of Family and Children's Services, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Hall County Schools, the family court system, attorneys, local businesses, foster parents and other stakeholders in the child welfare system.

During the Hall is Home for the Holidays Christmas celebration on Dec. 15, over 500 kids and other community members packed into the Gainesville Civic Center. 

Mathe said the event proved a hit and she’s already planning next year’s celebration. 

“It was amazing,” she said. “The community really came together — folks who work in the system and those who don’t.”

Kids feasted on food donated by Chick-fil-A, participated in holiday-themed crafts and had their faces painted.  

Mathe said a Brenau University cheer team led dances. Kids, DFCS workers, attorneys, foster parents and others came out to the dance floor.

“It was one of those magical surprise moments that you couldn’t plan for,” Mathe said. “Old, young, big and small were dancing. Teens went all out doing the Cupid Shuffle like it was their job. People had the time of their lives.”

Even the foster care case managers enjoyed themselves.

“They have to deal with such hard experiences with kids and families,” Mathe said. “For them to have a fully positive experience was fantastic. You just never know, when you step into something this big, what will happen.”

In addition to throwing a spirited party, Hall is Home delivered presents to 450 kids in custody of Hall County DFCS.

Mathe said the initiative’s volunteers traveled to all corners of Georgia to drop off the gifts. 

“Over 70% of children place outside of Hall County because of the shortage of local foster homes,” Mathe said. “That’s what makes this task so huge. We need more local foster homes, and that’s where our heart is.”

Through the help of The Upside, a podcast hosted by Callie and Jeff Dauler, Mathe said Hall is Home received a wave of donations. In less than eight minutes of airing the podcast, she said over 400 gift items had been secured. 

With some additional donations from individuals in the community, the initiative’s volunteers were able to fulfill all the wishlists.

Mathe said they gave each child what they wanted, including bicycles. 

Thanks to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office’s bicycle program, 23 kids in foster care will get bicycles for Christmas. 

What surprised Mathe the most with the Christmas celebration and gift deliveries was the amount of volunteers who asked, “What else can I do?”

Mathe said many of the volunteers are foster parents, who already put a lot of time toward caring for children. 

She said she wants to thank all of those who made Hall feel like home for kids in foster care this holiday season. 

“So many of these children have to live outside of their home community, whether temporarily or permanently,” Mathe said. “We want to remind them that Hall is their home and their community loves them very much.”

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