Shelves aren’t the only place you’ll find elves this holiday season: You can see them in action at local nonprofits gathering gifts for local foster children and staging toy drives for other children in need.
The crew at GAP Ministries is in high holiday gear with plans for Christmas visits for children in foster care and their families.
The annual holiday visits feature food, crafts, family photos and a “store” where parents can get free presents for their children who are under the care of the Arizona Department of Child Safety due to abuse, neglect or unsafe circumstances.
Following a wrapping party, the gifts are placed under a Christmas tree to provide “a mini-Christmas morning, if you will,” said Beth Sierra, GAP Ministries’ programs supervisor.
The event is designed to offer a positive holiday experience for the children with their families. Sierra said it also helps to keep families engaged in their children’s lives when they are not living at home.
“Christmas is a hard time of year for parents whose kiddos aren’t at home with them. Often they spend money they need to pay bills on toys — and some parents cancel visits to avoid seeing their children if they can’t afford to buy them gifts — so we try to lessen that burden for them. We want to give them time that they can spend together without all the added stress,” said Sierra.
Sierra said that since GAP Ministries began the tradition in 2015, more than 500 children have built happy holiday memories with parents and siblings.
GAP Ministries also makes an extra effort during the holiday season to support children who live in “SPLASH” — Spirit Powered Love Aggressively Shaping Hearts — Group Homes, which are built around the concept of family. Each “foster family” is comprised of a full-time houseparent couple and up to 10 foster children of varying ages; the homes and/or individual children can be “adopted” by individuals, groups, churches or businesses during the holidays.
Sierra said each child makes a “wish list” for the holidays, and adoptees are asked to spend about $75 to purchase items from the list.
“If some of the kiddos don’t have families or their families can’t afford any presents for them, these are the only gifts they receive,” said Charlie Daniels, a foster family specialist and former houseparent in a SPLASH Group Home.
Miracle En El Barrio
Embracing community and inclusiveness is at the core of Miracle en el Barrio presented by NOVA Home Loans, which will celebrate 17 years of providing holiday cheer to children in South Tucson and their families on Friday, Dec. 20, at St. John’s Church, 602 W. Ajo Way.
About 50 NOVA employees spearhead the festivities and assist with toy drives, which seek to collect toys for at least 3,000 children. Since its inception, the event has given more than 38,000 toys to local children who would not otherwise receive gifts.
“NOVA has always been very committed to giving back to the community. Miracle en el Barrio was something that NOVA CEO John Volpe started back when he was a loan officer with his friend, Steve Nuñez,” said Kathy Stern, education exchange manager with NOVA Home Loans. “They saw a need and wanted to do what they could to help out, which is typical of John and NOVA as a whole. ”
Toys for Tots
Another toy drive reaching out to the public for assistance is Toys for Tots, which is run by the Marine Corps.
Cpl. Miguel Sandoval, Toys for Tots coordinator, said the effort, which has requests from almost 15,000 children ages newborn to 14, is in dire need of toys.
“Last year we collected about 24,000 toys and we are very low on donations this year. We have a lot of work to do if we are going to collect that many toys this year,” said Sandoval, who hopes that a big push for awareness will result in a surge of donations.
“This is important. I know from the way I grew up that no kids deserve to go through the holidays without some type of presents or some type of holiday spirit,” Sandoval said.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at email@example.com