Bartow County Department of Family & Children Services fulfilled the Christmas requests of more than 150 children in state custody, courtesy of local donors and Georgia United Foundation’s 30th annual Wish Tree program.
“It was a blessing to have Georgia United involved in our Silent Santa program this year at Bartow DFCS,” said LeeAnn Henson, administrative associate 2 for Bartow DFCS. “Because of the pandemic, some of our larger sponsors had to opt out because their employees were teleworking or were working with a skeleton crew and could not support the program. Georgia United was able to grant the wishes of 50 of our foster children here at Bartow DFCS.
“We sent them the children’s first name, age and three wishes they wanted, and it was a huge success. They ask for anything from dolls, games, electronics, bikes and a lot of the children asked that the COVID-19 pandemic just be over.”
In 2020, the Georgia United’s program granted 1,445 wishes to children in foster care, who were residing in 10 counties. Due to COVID-19, the public was able to donate virtually, choosing the charity site and requested presents.
“We understand 2020 has presented some challenges for many in our communities; however, we wanted the children in the foster care program to know we care about their well-being,” said Georgia United Credit Union Business Development Officer Liz Riffert in a Georgia United Foundation news release. “The online donation shopping allowed members to participate and safely shop from their homes.
“Participating in this cause that helps strengthen our communities brings us such joy this holiday season.”
A charitable organization, the Georgia United Foundation is the “philanthropic arm of Georgia United Credit Union,” according to the news release. The credit union has 19 branch locations, including one in Cartersville.
“Because of some of my regular sponsors not being able to commit to fulfilling a wish list of a foster child, I was very concerned that we would not be able to have all of our 150 plus children sponsored,” Henson said. “But because of the help from the foster parent association getting the word out that we were in need of sponsors for a little over 50 foster children, I received a huge outpouring of support from people letting me know they wanted to receive a wish list. Our children range in age from 1 month to 20 years.
“And because of the community’s love and support, all of Bartow DFCS foster children were sponsored and gifts were delivered to the office, and then with help from our CASAs and others in our field of work all the gifts were delivered to the foster homes for the children.”
Over the past three decades, the Wish Tree program has received nearly 31,000 donated gifts, thanks to the public’s assistance.
“This is my 20th year of spearheading the Silent Santa program for Bartow County foster children and I must say that this was my most challenging and rewarding year as I was so overcome with emotion seeing the love and support that was given during these trying times,” Henson said. “It was such a blessing to come in to work each morning and see 10–20 emails from people I didn’t know asking to receive a wish list so they could buy gifts for a child.
“It is also very important that all my regular sponsors that have been doing this with me year after year without fail know that I am truly thankful and appreciative of their continued support.”