Imagine being a child and not knowing where you’re going to be on Christmas.
Imagine thinking: “Is Santa going to come this year? Is he going to know where I’m at?”
Deja Burge, 6, doesn’t have that worry anymore, but she’s been there.
Deja was adopted in November by Barbara and Doug Dickinson of Waveland after more than three years of uncertainty in her life. She bounced from family home to family home before settling in with the Dickinsons as a foster child almost two years ago. She now has what the foster community likes to call a “forever home.”
There are still about 320 foster children in Hancock County in the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services system this Christmas season, and Stephanie Stewart is going to make sure each one receives a gift.
Stewart is the Hancock County Youth Court administrator who is coordinating the Foster the Cause gift program and party.
“It’s just a wonderful day where the kids are all there with their peers and other foster kids,” Stewart said. “They make a wish list and get all the items on their list.”
Similar efforts are in the works in Harrison and Jackson counties.
Ricardo Bolton said about 800 children are in foster care in Harrison County and officials are still working to get gifts for all of them.
“We bring in so many kids in custody and out of custody every week,” he said, “So there is a big gap.”
Harrison County CPS will host a fundraiser Dec. 15 at Buffalo Wild Wings in D’Iberville to help fill that gap.
“We want to make sure that any children we are involved with will have a good Christmas,” he said.
That includes families in their protective and prevention programs. Those are families that still have custody of their children, but are working with CPS to improve their home situations.
In Jackson County, there are about 310 foster children. Gifts have been provided for all but two of 128 of those children who are associated with Jackson County CASA. Those gifts will be delivered by volunteers. Other groups are working to provide for the remaining children.
The community response has been “very overwhelming,” said Adrian McCullum of Jackson County CASA. When 18 more children came into the system in the last two weeks, a local business stepped up and provided gifts for almost all of them, he said.
Students from College Park Elementary School also will be providing some gifts.
Hancock County is expecting about 200 children to attend the Foster the Cause Christmas party.
Hancock County Youth Court Judge Elise Deano began the party and gift program four yeas ago, when she realized there wasn’t a Christmas event for Hancock foster children.
“I was shocked,” she said.
The sheriff’s office helped the first year, now Hancock County CASA and CPS join forces for to organize the party.
“Best collaboration I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Deano said.
The party is “absolutely breathtaking and wonderful to actually experience and see for yourself,” Stewart said.
Every child will gets gifts they asked for even if they don’t go to the party, Stewart said. Gifts will also go to families in protective and prevention programs.
“It helps not just the foster kids, but the foster family together to say, ‘Everything is going to be OK,’” Stewart said, “and there people who care, and a community who cares about them.”
How to help
In Harrison County: call Robin Vaughn, 228-897-5790
In Hancock County: call Stephanie Stewart, 228-467-7945
In Jackson County: call Frances Allsup, 228-762-7370