At Bartow County Department of Family and Children Services, employees are trying to fulfill the wishes of about 240 children in state custody through the Silent Santa program. To ensure every child receives presents on Christmas, community assistance is being sought in the form of Santa helpers and financial donations. As of Thursday, 159 children still are needing sponsors for the more than 20-year-old Silent Santa program.
"We still have at least half that have not been sponsored," said Kimberly Davis, resource development case manager for Bartow County DFCS. "Our number of sponsors are definitely lower this year. So we haven't had as high of a turnout as we've had in the past few years. These children ... they may not have the opportunity outside of the Silent Santa program because the foster parents have so much responsibility with several children in their home and their own families that it's hard for them to meet all the needs for the [foster] child that should be met.
"Basically we just want them to have a good Christmas, like any other kid would have. Just because they're in foster care doesn't mean they shouldn't have an exciting Christmas like every other child."
Community sponsors who participate in the Silent Santa program receive a wish list that includes information like the child's first name, age, gender, favorite color, clothing sizes and desired toys. While individuals are not required to purchase every item the child requests, they are encouraged to select the gifts with care, as if they are shopping for their own child.
"The wish lists have a list of what [they] want," Davis said. "Then on the bottom, there's a line that says, 'What I want most for Christmas.' Normally some kids will put an Xbox or whatever [but] I have seen on there 'a family' and that has brought tears to my eyes several times."
Once purchased, gifts should be returned to DFCS -- 47 Brook Drive in Cartersville -- unwrapped. Even though the agency has set a deadline date of Dec. 10, toys are being accepted through Dec. 22.
In addition to sponsoring a child, financial donations also are needed for a Silent Santa fund that is used to purchase last minute gifts and provide extracurricular outings for children during the year such as ballet lessons.
For more information about participating in the Silent Santa program, call Davis at 770-387-3755, Shaquita Maxey at 770-387-3710 and LeeAnn Henson at 770-387-3736.
While the Silent Santa program is seeking sponsors, the Bartow Christmas Coalition is in need of toys for its annual campaign. Formed in the early 1990s, the nonprofit assisted 750 families -- 654 boys and 675 girls -- and 143 senior adults with nonperishable food items and toys in 2009. With each annual campaign typically recording about a 10 percent increase in recipients, campaign organizers expect to serve 825 families and 158 seniors this year.
"We need toys, toys, toys," Bartow Christmas volunteer Robin Tanner said. "That is what we need the most right now. We need toys for all age groups from newborn to age 14, both boys and girls. We have a lot of churches on board already to donate food. Publix is donating food shipments and Ingles is also on board to donate food. So we're kind of covered on that side. We need toys. More than anything, that's what we need."
If donations allow, each qualified family is going to receive nonperishable food items, a gift card and two toys for each child, newborn to 14. Gift cards and food items also are being presented to adults, 65 and older. The holiday items are being distributed Dec. 6 to 9 at the organization's Toy Store in the Cartersville Plaza on Nelson Street.
To help this year's effort be a success, the community can help by organizing fundraisers, volunteering, contributing financially or bringing items to the nonprofit's Toy Store. Supporters also are encouraged to participate in upcoming benefits, such as the Bartow County Miss Christmas Pageant Dec. 12, 3 p.m., for newborns to 18-year-olds, at the Clarence Brown Conference Center. The entry fee will be $30 and a $10 toy for the first child and a $25 charge plus a $10 toy for an additional sibling. The deadline to register is Dec. 10.
"We have so many parents out here that are out of work due to the economy," Tanner said. "They don't have jobs and they can't provide Christmas for their families. We have so many children that would not have a Christmas if it wasn't for the community and the Toy Store. ... We actually schedule [the parents] an appointment so they can come in and shop the Toy Store for their children.
"You have families that come in and they are so grateful because there's no other way they could provide toys on Christmas for their children. And then another thing from the volunteer side of it is I have volunteers call me on a daily basis that want to volunteer with the Toy Store, not only themselves but they want to get their children involved."
For more information about the Bartow Christmas drive, call 770-386-3399 or visit www.bartowchristmas.org. More details on the pageant can be obtained by calling Melissa Reece-Porter, 770-386-2252, or Cindy Reece, 770-547-8098.