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|Joy of giving: Center hopes to fill Christmas dreams|
Each year, hundreds of local children have a happier Christmas thanks to volunteers and donations for the Center for Children and Families' annual Christmas project.
The project is under way again and sponsors are needed for more than 600 children who hope Santa Claus pays them a visit. These children have been displaced from their home due to abuse and neglect.
Most of these children are in foster care through the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children program. Some of the children have been referred from the Children's Advocacy Center, which conducts forensic interviews with children who have suffered from sexual abuse.
"We sponsor children from those programs, and we also work with a lot of families in the rural parishes who are just completely in poverty and receiving family advocacy services from our programs," said Erin Stokes, public relations coordinator for the Center for Children and Families. "The foster kids take up more than half of this number because there is just so many of those children who need services."
Last year in northeast Louisiana, there were 1,500 reported valid cases of children who were abused or neglected. On top of that, the area is home to some of the poorest parishes in the nation, Stokes said.
"We have a lot of different families who are in a crisis," she said. "So it's really important for people to be informed, and then do whatever they can."
Each year, more and more people respond to the Christmas project, Stokes said. She believes it is a perfect opportunity for communities to do something special for Christmas.
"I encourage people to take the joy of the season and spread it around," she explained. "This is a time for people to feel loved and supported, and if you can do that for a child who has been through so much, then your holiday season is going to be better because of it."
Stokes encourages people who have children to go shopping with them and let their children pick out the gifts.
"Have them shop for other children and let them pick out things that they want to give to a child in need," she said. "It teaches a valuable lesson, and that's what this time is all about."
"I encourage people to remember that, and do what they can," Stokes added.
Gifts are being collected from residents in the 11-parish region. Those items will be delivered to foster parents and guardians of children who have been removed from their homes.
Stokes said corporate sponsors have already come through in a big way for the annual project.
Chase Bank has agreed to provide gifts for 115 children, and First United Methodist Church in West Monroe will sponsor 100 children. Ouachita Christian School also has taken on 60 wish lists.
"We start working with our big groups first," she said.
"Every year we give out an award for our top sponsors, and it's become kind of competitive, which we love. People want to give the most, so we always have a good response from churches and schools and corporate sponsors. Then we just have to fill in the gaps with the rest of them."
Currently, the center has approximately 635 children it wants to provide gifts for this Christmas. However, children are removed from their homes almost daily due to abuse or neglect, so she expects that number will increase before Christmas arrives.
The center was worried that the economy this year would result in fewer people donating to its project. The exact opposite has happened, Stokes said.
"Other people in the community who are usually doing well are now not doing as well," Stokes continued. "So we were worried we would not get as much, but actually, we've seen the opposite. It's weird, but certainly a blessing for us. People this time have given more. It's been easier to sponsor this year than ever before. People are so willing to give. People in this community just always give."
Those who want to participate in the project will be given a child's Christmas wish list, Stokes said. That wish list will have a child's shoe, pants and shirt size and a list of gifts the child wants. Another section will have the child's "dream gift" which is typically a large item like a bike or video game console.
Stokes said sponsors are not required to buy the dream gift.
"All we ask is they get an outfit with shoes for the child and at least one item on their list," she said. "People always do more than that, but that's all we really require from a sponsor."
"This year we've gotten a lot of requests for Hannah Montana guitars and anything for a Playstation or Game Boy, that's their dream gifts this year," she added.
Gifts must be new, unused toys.
The deadline to give donations or gifts is Dec. 1.
For more information, call Stokes at 398-0945.
KNOE Star 101.9 will host an event called, "Stuff the Bus" from Dec. 1-6 to help collect toys for the Center for Children and Families' annual Christmas project.
A motor-home will be parked at Pecanland Mall during this time. Disc jockeys with Star 101.9 will live in the motor-home for the week to encourage residents to bring a new toy to stuff inside their bus. All toys donated will be given to the Center for Children and Families.