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Social services launches foster kids’ Christmas drive

By KAREN THIEL

For the Washington Daily News

 

More than ever, a Christmas tradition that began in the 1980s needs the help of Beaufort County’s great-hearted residents. The Department of Social Services is collecting Christmas presents for a growing group of foster children that is expected to break last year’s donation record.

“Every year, we have been able to get sponsors for all our foster children and, if not presents, then contributions. And every year has been wonderful,” said Karen Chrisman, a supervisor at Washington’s DSS office who has worked there for 15 years.

Chrisman said there are more kids in need every year, which is more daunting than usual now, because the total of children included in 2019 has already been surpassed.

“Last year, we had between 120 and 130 asking for assistance. We are starting out with 130 on our list right now, which means we will need more gifts this year,” Chrisman said.

More than 500 gifts were given to about 130 foster children last year, ranging from pre-school toddlers to young adults over 18 years old who, although they have legally “aged out” of the system, have chosen to stay in their foster homes until they become more adept at adult living and related responsibilities.

Donors do not have to figure out which specific gifts to buy for “their” kids, because every foster parent submits a list of what their foster children want. Chrisman said the program instructions parents receive always include a list of items that are not acceptable, as well as those that everyone is allowed to receive.

Chrisman said participants don’t have to worry about storing the gifts they buy because since 2013, her mother, Washington resident Lauren Riddick, has collected every present donated to the program. The gifts are wrapped by an army of DSS employees and volunteers, then delivered by DSS employees in order to preserve the confidentiality of the children and their foster families.

Riddick was highly complementary about the program’s donors — which include several local church groups.

“People are always there when we run out of sources. Someone just falls out of Heaven and supplies what we need. And if it’s a bike, my husband will put it together for them. This is just a wonderful community,” Riddick said.

Chrisman said a safe option is available for anyone who doesn’t want to spend time in crowded stores during this pandemic-complicated Christmas season. Members of Washington’s Kiwanis club have been collecting and prioritizing donations for the DSS Christmas gift program since the mid-1980s. Local chapter President Bobby Roberson said the effort is even more important in this year of crisis and will not be closed down because of the pandemic. He added that gift donations are received and forwarded to DSS all year long, but are especially appreciated as Christmas approaches. Checks or money orders should be made out to Kiwanis Special Youth Fund and mailed to P.O. Box 2711, Washington, NC 27889.

To volunteer to sponsor a child through the 2020 Christmas for Foster Children program, call Lauren Riddick at 252-943-5643 or 252-946-4780.