Businesses, churches and individuals are coming together across Ahwatukee Foothills to provide Christmas cheer to kids and teens in local foster group homes.
Two separate holiday drives for kids in the foster care system were started in Ahwatukee last year and this year both are continuing that new tradition, asking for donations for older kids in foster group homes.
Operation Christmas Smile has 27 drop-off sites set up across the Valley for Christmas gifts. They’re asking for donations of new and unused sports equipment, toiletries, gift cards and games or activities suitable for kids ages 10 to 18.
Ahwatukee Kiwanis is asking for donations of Target or Wal-Mart gift cards, flip-flops, boxer shorts, pajama or sweat pants, socks and T-shirts for girls and boys in the same age group.
Both drives came as a result of a Connecting to Serve meeting on foster care issues in 2012. Connecting to Serve brings together local churches and service organizations to combine resources to solve community problems. After its meeting on the foster care system several individuals felt inspired to gather gifts for kids in the system, even though Christmas was only a few weeks away. Kiwanis was able to compile gifts for 47 teen boys in local foster group homes. This year, because they’ve had an earlier start, they hope to double their outreach. Operation Christmas Smile gathered more than 225 gifts in two weeks, which were distributed through local nonprofits that work within the system. This year their goal is to gather 1,400 gifts.
“I think a lot of us in the room, when we heard these kids might not get Christmas, felt that’s not right,” said Pastor Jeff Zubeck of Living Word Ahwatukee. “We should do something about that.”
Zubeck started his own drive for gifts for foster youth in 2012. This year a local non-profit, Operation Christmas Smile, with Executive Director Juanita Williams-Whitehead, took over the effort. They partnered with Kris Jacober, a foster parent and executive director of Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation, to help distribute the gifts that were collected. Jacober works with Opportunity Community and Justice Kids and gives them a majority of the gifts for their annual Christmas party and takes whatever is left to hand out at the annual Christmas party for the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents.
“I can’t paint a bleak enough picture for you of a kid coming into the foster care system today,” Jacober said. “Most kids come with just what they are wearing and nothing else. They may or may not see their biological family before Christmas depending on transportation and if the stars align. These kids will never meet us or know who we are, but they know that some stranger cared about them enough to drop a gift in a box so they’ll have something to open on Christmas.”
Operation Christmas Smile will collect donations through Dec. 11. For more information, visit www.operationchristmassmile.org. For more information on the Kiwanis drive, which will collect gifts through Dec. 16 visit ahwatukeekiwanis.org.
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