A new group of government agencies, nonprofits and volunteers are organizing in Hall County to make this Christmas extra special for the county’s foster children.
Hall is Home for the Holidays has spent the past year fundraising, all in an effort to provide Christmas presents for all of Hall County’s foster children, alleviating the financial burden on their placements and making sure they all remember Hall County is their home.
“We want each of these children and our community to remember this is their home,” said Ari Mathe, a child welfare attorney in the Hall County Juvenile Court system and committee co-chair for Hall is Home for the Holidays. “We'll let the system take care of what it is uniquely equipped to do and what the law requires them to do, but as a community, we want to do more than just that and we want to really love on these children and their placements.”
That’s why the group came up with the idea to band together and create one, all-encompassing event for foster children this Christmas. Many organizations and families have worked separately in the past to provide Christmas for foster children, but Hall is Home for the Holidays wanted to change that this year.
They’re planning a Christmas celebration full of fun with Santa Claus, Santa’s workshop, crafts, science stations, performances and food for everybody.
On top of the $15,000 in donations and in-kind donations it has raised for the celebration, Hall is Home for the Holidays has raised about $30,000 for big-ticket items on many of the 400-plus foster children’s wish lists that will be at the Christmas party.
With families and organizations taking care of the other items on the lists that don’t cost as much, all of the Christmas wish lists will be fulfilled.
“This is the first year that I'm aware of all these individuals and groups who have been doing this work have come together and done it in a big, organized way,” Mathe said.
Hall is Home for the Holidays made it a goal to give foster children the most normal Christmas it could this year, springing for those big-ticket items like electronics for every child that asked for it. With the help of all the organizations at one time, instead of working separately, it has been able to make that happen.
“I saw the need to really bring everyone together at the same literal and figurative table, so that we could do more together,” Mathe said. “We could all stay sane a little bit and nobody felt like they were all on their own and it really has accomplished that.”
She said she wasn’t surprised by how willing to give time and money to the cause the community has been, but she was impressed with how much people were willing to help beyond that.
“The most amazing thing about this has not been that we've been able to raise over $30,000 of big-ticket items so far, that we've gotten over 400 lists covered or that we have a fully-funded Christmas party in December,” Mathe said. “The most amazing thing has been that almost everyone who has agreed to participate has said, ‘What else can I do?’”
And if you’re asking that same question, Mathe said there’s still time to help. There’s still some room for financial donations to make sure children have those big-ticket items they're hoping for. Some of that money will also be reserved to make sure there are extra funds for children that will be placed in foster care during the month of December, just before the Christmas party.
“We also have a need for donations for our teens in foster care,” Mathe said. “They are like normal teens and want very much to be treated like normal teens and that means they want their own money to spend on their own stuff for Christmas.”
She said they’re looking for gift cards — anything from Chick-fil-A to Starbucks, Target to Amazon.
It’s the first year for something like this, and with its support and success so far, Mathe is encouraged and optimistic about the future of Hall is Home for the Holidays.
“For there to be a one community Christmas party for foster children and their placements, I don't think that that has happened,” Mathe said. “There have been some events, but nothing of this nature that really seeks to open its doors to all of these kiddos and placements.”