“Santa never makes a mistake.”
That is the credo organizers follow in putting on an annual Christmas party for North County foster children, former foster youths and their families at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church.
In this year’s event held Saturday, Dec. 7, foster parents of about 120 families received wrapped gifts for their children to open on Christmas Day, or whichever holiday they celebrate.
Each of the approximately 600 presents was tailored to the wishes of the children, as related by their parents to the church’s Foster Youth Ministry volunteers in the weeks leading up to the party.
“We talk to the families specifically about what kind of gifts they want,” said Gretchen Morgan, a foster ministry leader and chief organizer of the party.
Claudia Bell, a ministry volunteer who helps coordinate the process of soliciting wish lists from parents, said foster children often receive gifts from charities that are randomly distributed rather than geared to each child.
“I think it’s important for any child to get a special gift they asked for and wanted for Christmas,” the Encinitas resident said while supervising the gift-wrapping room Saturday. ”This is a way of helping them feel a little more normal since they don’t have a chance to have Christmas with their birth parents.”
Said Morgan’s husband, Bill, also an event volunteer: “It’s quite a task to make sure we get it right.”
The Del Mel couple and Bell were among more than 100 volunteers from several nonprofit organizations, including Safe Families for Children and Just in Time for Foster Youth, who assisted in staging what was a multi-faceted fiesta in the church’s Children’s Ministry Center.
While a platoon of helpers busied themselves downstairs wrapping items donated through the ministry’s outreach efforts, others assisted upstairs in engaging children of all ages in games, arts and crafts.
Activities included making holiday cards and snow globes, decorating tree ornaments and cookies, and water painting. A large table offered fruit juice, water, cheese and vegetable trays and desserts.
While the children played, the parents were escorted downstairs to pick up their pre-assigned wrapped gifts whose total value is probably in the tens of thousands of dollars, Bill Morgan said. Parents also could choose among hundreds of donated sweaters as well as books contributed by Friends of the Solana Beach Library.
“These are the rock star families,” Morgan said. “The most important thing about this is to provide support for foster families because there’s not a lot of support for them. ... Most of us wouldn’t attempt to do what they’re doing.”
Escondido resident Elda Martinez, the mother of one foster child and four adopted children, said she has attended the party over the last few years.
“This is an amazing project that they do,” she said. “The kids have fun, while we do our shopping. To kids, getting any gift is incredible but for them to get a gift they want and like is even better.
“I’m always very humbled that the community has such a great heart. It makes me happy, and (the volunteers) are all smiling. It gets us all warm and fuzzy.”
In addition to families that now rear foster children, young adults who were former foster children are invited to attend the party through Just in Time. The countywide group is devoted to helping those who turn 18 and leave the foster care system.
“It gives support to this particular demographic and enables them to come back into the community,” said Just in Time coordinator Steven Silva, who was a foster child himself outside of San Diego County.
“These are not only survivors, they’re thrivers,” Morgan said of the foster children-turned-adults. “They’ve had to put in a lot of work to get where they are.”
The Just in Time clients who attend the celebration, many of whom now have their own children, received stockings packed with several hundred dollars worth of items and gift cards.
San Diego resident Tianisha Davis, a former foster child who is the mother of a 19-month-old son, was appreciative of the gifts, especially because of a limited Christmas budget.
“So, I don’t have to freak out like I can’t get this and I can’t get that,” she said. “It’s been a pretty good day.”
Carmel Valley resident and church member Andrea Cunningham, who was lending a hand in distributing the stockings, said this was the sixth year she has participated in the party.
“There’s just such a warm feeling,” she said. “It’s festive and helps me to remember the true meaning of Christmas.”