Christmas comes but once a year, but the feeling a young child receives from a gracious gift at the holidays could last a lifetime.
Sampson County Department of Social Services knows that well and, with the assistance of community partners and private donations, has sought for years to extend a little joy to a foster child whose life might not be filled with enough of it. Through the DSS’ Christmas Cheer Program, the spirit of the season is very much celebrated by providing to children under the agency’s care a Christmas they might not otherwise enjoy.
Once again, there are funds in place to extend the gift-giving to some 120 local foster children and more donations from the community are always welcome, DSS officials said. Hurmean Beach, account specialist II for DSS, said the large number of children make donations, and the Christmas they can provide, vital to the program.
“It’s very important to the children,” said Beach. “There’s a lot of them that would have no gifts if we didn’t provide it to them. Every child deserves to experience a good Christmas.”
The foster children benefiting from the funds are those under temporary care due to family problems that prevent the child from staying safely in the home. Children in DSS custody are placed in a licensed foster home or group care facility that can best meet their needs while their parents work with Social Services staff to resolve their problems.
Those problems would only be compounded if Christmas came and went without a visit from Santa and a little help from others.
This year, there is $5,000 from the United Way of Sampson County and another $6,500 from Wellman Oil Company Inc. in Clinton being utilized toward Christmas Cheer. United Way has always been a heavy contributor and Wellman has been a significant donor the past two years.
Additionally, Beach said, there will be a number of people who donate smaller amounts that are able to be used as part of the program. Many people have also brought in gifts to be wrapped and distributed. A party, with Santa Claus in attendance, is held to celebrate Christmas and hand out presents to the children.
“They usually do a party for foster children and parents and pass out the gifts to children,” said Beach.
Greg Owen, president of Wellman Oil Company Inc. in Clinton, has been to two Social Services board meetings in the past year to present $6,500 checks to DSS officials. Wellman Oil nominated the DSS’ Christmas Cheer Program for a grant from the BP Fueling Communities Program late last year for 2011’s program and was successful — the first such grant received locally. Another $6,500 was awarded, and presented by Owen, in July to go toward this year’s program.
Both times, Owen talked about how deserving DSS was, noting Wellman’s close work with the department through the Crisis Intervention and Low Income Energy Assistance programs. Due to that experience, Wellman representatives were well aware of the many crisis situations families, and in turn DSS, are dealing with and wanted to help.
“We just felt like there are people who need assistance and it was great to do something for the children that can’t afford Christmas,” said Owen.
Beach said the United Way of Sampson County was the source for the majority of the funding in past years. However, Wellman Oil through the BP Fueling Communities program, has developed into another strong partner in providing Christmas to children in DSS. Traditionally, money from partner agency United Way of Sampson County has made up the bulk of Christmas Cheer’s funding, however the gift from Wellman Oil has helped to tip the scales the last couple years.
They have been welcome donations, as the number of children in foster care spiked a couple years ago amid a down economy and has stayed fairly constant since.
In 2010, the Christmas Cheer program provided for 108 children and 17 adults, which DSS director Sarah Bradshaw noted at the time was the largest she had seen, with the number of children around 70 or 80 in previous years. In 2011, the program provided for even more children — at 132 — as well as 26 adults. Currently, DSS has around 120 children in foster care.
Donations are still being accepted for this year’s Christmas Cheer, but even if it is too close to Christmas or after the holidays, DSS staff assured it will make a difference in the life of a local child.
“We’ll accept it any time they want to bring it in,” said Beach. “If it’s too late, it can always go toward next year. The money stays in that fund, so it is not spent on anything else.”
Those interested in donating can call the Sampson County Department of Social Services, at 910-592-7131. Beach said should donations come after the target date of Dec. 3, they can always rollover to next year’s outreach. Beach said it is the goal to have all gifts ready to be wrapped by Dec. 10.
While there are many programs deserving of donations around the holidays, Christmas Cheer serves solely the contingent of children in foster care, a group that DSS does not want to see neglected further.
“You don’t want the kids to feel like they’ve been forgotten,” Beach said. “You just want them to feel like somebody really cares about them. Some of these children have been through horrendous things and it’s great to be able to make them feel good.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.