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Gift giveaway event fills foster kids with holiday spirit

December 16, 2018

Standing in front of a table packed with presents, one teenage girl had trouble choosing her Christmas gift Saturday afternoon.

Board games, nail polish and a brown teddy bear were among the possibilities. Almost reluctantly, she choose a fuzzy blanket with matching water bottle. But, a few moments later, she returned to the table and traded it for perfume.

Mike Marcum, the volunteer standing behind the table in Peace Lutheran Church, quietly urged her to take both gifts. The girl, mindful of the rules ... and the fact that her younger foster siblings each received only one item, declined.

The event, organized by the Allen County Foster Parent Association, was an opportunity for local foster children to choose a gift, eat a snack, talk to Santa and have their picture taken with the jolly old elf.

“These are kids who have nothing,” said Angela Arambula, a foster mother who organized the third annual party.

The event has grown each year, from 40 foster children the first year to 188 this year. Each child had to be pre-registered so organizers could make sure to have enough items in each age range for both boys and girls.

Selections included puzzles, building blocks, Barbie dolls, Tickle Me Elmo, toy tractors and more.

Among the businesses and organizations contributing toys Peg Perego, Parkview Hospital, The Spare & The Hare Boutique, Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 248, the Corner Pocket and Dr. Jason Glassley’s dental practice.

When a volunteer took 25 off a $100 purchase. A manager there honored the coupon 12 times so the foster mom could buy even more presents for the disadvantaged children, Arambula said.

Such unexpected kindness sometimes overwhelms her.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who step up with gifts” and volunteer to help at the party, Arambula said. “Honestly, we were beyond blessed. This is truly more than I ever could have imagined.” 

Kate Wiggins was among the volunteers. The foster mom was overseeing the table stocked with items for children from newborn to 2 years old.

Some of the youngsters required guidance from parents when choosing from the toy display, she said. But it wasn’t a hard sell.

“They know what they like, though, when they see it,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins and her husband are foster parents to a 6-month-old girl. They also adopted a little boy, who will turn 3 the day after Christmas. Their family came together after she tried to get pregnant for eight years.

“When we jumped in, we jumped in all the way,” she said. “It’s our life now. It’s been amazing.”

Santa, who is also a foster dad, said adults have to be aware that some foster kids are afraid of adults and certain actions or sounds. Attachment issues are also common.

Even so, they’re kids, and they enjoy meeting a non-threatening Santa.

“It’s just bringing a little extra happiness this year,” he added.

Brie Marker, who became a foster mother three years ago, stood behind the table of gifts for children ages 3 to 5. She and her husband recently adopted 14-year-old Cheyenne, who helped Santa by handing out candy canes.

“It’s been awesome,” Marker said about life with her new daughter, who they fostered with the plan to adopt. “It’s a great way to grow your family and give a kid a safe place to live, even if it’s temporary.”

“It’s just a way for us to give back.”

Taking in the happy chaos around her, Arambula asked: “Isn’t this just what Christmas is all about?”

sslater@jg.net

 
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