Giving Children the Gift of Faith

Date Published: 
February, 2006
Original Author: 
Heather Bansemer
Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park, Seattle, Washington
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, February 2006

Want to make the end-of-the-year holidays more joyous?
Enlist your co-workers in an "Adopt a Family" program.

Ah ... the holidays. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is a joyous yet stressful time of year. Most people have parties to look forward to, packages to wrap, relatives to visit and traditions to follow.

But there are people who don't look forward to the holidays as much as some of us do, especially low income families struggling to provide for their children. And what about the children who fall through the cracks of society, foster children who may be living in the homes of people they don't know with nothing or no one to call their own, or children living in shelters where each new morning means that tonight may be the night they sleep on the street?

Who provides those children with gifts? How do they learn to enjoy a season of giving when they are often unseen by society, if not altogether forgotten?

These are the questions the staff of EvergreenWashelli Memorial Park & Funeral Home in Seattle, Washington, asked ourselves last year when deciding whom to sponsor for our annual ''Adopt a Family" drive.

We began participating in the "Adopt a Family" effort five years ago as a way to care for our surrounding community. We started on a very small scale with just one family. As the years went by, more employees became involved and the amount of money we had to work with increased.

Within a few years, we sponsored two large families and a few foster children. Our most successful year to date had been 2004, with three families and 10 foster children lovingly provided with gifts.

Last year, we decided to focus on the children few people think about-foster children and children in shelters. When we announced this year's drive, the response was huge.

As we took on what I imagined would be a difficult task, I thought it would be wise to start small, choosing only 20 foster children. However, I soon ran out of children for my co-workers to sponsor. When I contacted the Freemont Family Works (the agency we work with) to get more names, the children we added to our list were selected by our employees within mere hours. I should have known better than to underestimate the kindness of those I work with. In the end, we sponsored more than 40 children, some in foster homes and some in shelters.

Wrapping it up
Most of the gifts dropped off near my desk are not wrapped. We look forward to our annual wrapping party the day before we deliver the gifts to the agency. It took 11 people 2.5 hours to handle the job.

Just for fun, I attempted to count the number of gifts we wrapped that afternoon, but kept losing count. At one point I had counted 167 beautifully wrapped presents, but realized I'd missed several and decided to stop counting.

Also made and personalized with the child's name were 14 stockings for the youngest children. The stockings included candy, holiday "Peanuts" coloring books, crayons, combs, playing cards and some gender-specific toys. We also included in each stocking an "angel" ornament, to remind each child that someone was thinking of them.

You'd be surprised at how little these children ask for. One child, whom we'll call "John," asked for new socks. Not a toy, not a game, not some trivial and unnecessary thing that most children would ask for—just new socks.

Everyone who picked a child went above and beyond that child's wishes, of course. "John" got socks, a new pair of tennis shoes and three pairs of jeans. A child who asked for a basketball also found a pair of Seattle Sonic game tickets tucked inside the box.

The most heartbreaking child we adopted this year was "Tavita," She was abandoned at the hospital within days of her birth and placed with a foster family while the state determines her eligibility for adoption and attempts to terminate the parental rights of her biological parents.

When we learned about Tavita, she was just 21 days old. She was immediately sponsored by one our funeral directors and his wife. They felt a connection to Tavita, as she is half Latin and half Caucasian, just like their own children. They were able to provide clothing and toys for her, including books and talking toys designed to teach her Spanish. If she is adopted by a non-Spanish-speaking family, Tavita will still have a link to her Hispanic roots.

Making a difference
National Statistics on Foster Children are reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. Some of the statistics are staggering, and as a nation we should be ashamed that we have allowed our children to languish in the system for so long.

For instance, almost 10 percent of the children waiting to be adopted have been in continuous foster care for two years or more; 25 percent have been in foster care for five years or more.

Evergreen-Washelli employees recognized that many of these children had probably not received much during their lives. When you consider that 25 percent of them spend 5 years or longer in foster care, you wonder how many Christmases they have missed. Each employee understood and embraced the belief that it was not just our joy but our responsibility as human beings to give these children the best gift, the one they hadn't asked for: The gift of faith that sometimes unspoken wishes really do come true.
It makes me incredibly proud to work for an organization that encourages support not just for each other but also for its surrounding community, especially these oft-forgotten children. Together, as a strong and responsive team, we can prove to these children they are not forgotten, and that faith in humankind can sometimes be found underneath fancy paper and bows.

You, too, can make a difference for children in your community. Call your local Department of Social and Health Services to find a community center near you and plan to give to the children in your community in 2006.