Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas gifts for foster youth

Some angels need holiday cheer too
Hayes, Holly. Oakland Tribune, Dec 2, 2006. pg. 1.

Some kids ask for bath towels, slippers, pajamas, backpacks, jeans. Others want a stuffed animal, a book, a special toy. The sort of things most kids take for granted.

They are children in the foster care system, and their situations vary. Some live in group homes or shelters, others with temporary families. Many have been abused or abandoned. What they share is that most of them are forgotten at the holidays.

Georgia Butterfield has made it her mission to see that at least some of these kids have something to unwrap on Christmas Day.

"There are 6,000 minors in the foster care system in Alameda County, and our goal is to have gifts for at least 600 of them," says Butterfield, who sells real estate in the Fremont area when she's not cajoling donations for Adopt An Angel, the nonprofit organization she has led for the last 10 years.

Alameda County Child Protective Services provides the names and sizes of the young people. A tag is made for each child with their first name, age, sex and, most importantly, fondest holiday wish.

"I read through about 15 or 20 of these tags at a time and then I just have to get up andwalk away for a while," says Butterfield. "The things these kids want are just so basic."

One year a 17-year-old girl asked for pots and pans, and dishes.

"She knew that when she turned 18 she'd be 'aged out' of the foster care system and would have to try to make it on her own," says Butterfield. "She needed stuff to help her get her life started. That situation just has to be very frightening."

Another year, a little blind boy wanted a guitar.

"Somebody not only bought him an acoustic guitar, but offered to teach him," remembers Butterfield. "Unfortunately, because of confidentiality rules, we could not put the two of them together. It broke my heart."

But then there are the moments that lift Butterfield's heart.

"We've gotten short notes from some of the kids who say the gifts they got made it the best Christmas ever," she says.

Butterfield was looking ahead to her worst Christmas ever when she learned about Adopt An Angel. It was 1994 and her son had recently died from complications of a stroke.

"In my office, they were wrapping presents for Adopt An Angel, a program I had never heard of," says Butterfield, who was inspired to take up a roll of wrapping paper and pitch in.

"It helped me," she says. "I really believe that when you give to the community, you give to yourself."

In addition to the holiday gift drive, Butterfield and her volunteers try to provide basic clothing -- jackets, sweat pants, sweat shirts, shoes, socks, underwear -- to the evaluation center where children are awaiting placement in safe housing. Many of these young people arrive at the center with only the clothing on their backs.

The situations these children find themselves in can be tragic. Butterfield wants them to be able to forget just a little bit at the holidays.

"We want to give them the feeling that they're not abnormal," she says. "That for that one moment they're just like everyone else."

Readers who would like to support this work may make checks out to Adopt An Angel, c/o Georgia Butterfield, 41111 Mission Blvd., Fremont, 94539. Donations are tax-deductible.