BY: DEBRA KASZUBSKI
Some might argue that Santa’s workshop isn’t at the North Pole, but rather it’s located off 23 Mile Road in Macomb Township.
A small workshop tucked within the former Nachi Machining Building is the temporary home to Friends of Foster Kids, a Macomb County nonprofit whose mission is to provide wrapped Christmas gifts for children in foster care.
This isn’t a small operation. Theresa Toia, director of Friends of Foster Kids, said the nonprofit will give presents to approximately 900 foster children and young adults this year.
The nonprofit works closely with foster care workers from the Department of Human Services and other agencies, who provide “wish lists” for kids in their care. The lists usually include a child’s name, age, gender, size and a few items the child wants or needs for Christmas.
“It’s more than a Christmas gift. It’s knowing that someone cares, that they (foster children) are not alone, and knowing that there are people who will help. These kids have no family; we are their family,” Toia said.
Needed items range from winter coats, hats and mittens, to sheets, pillowcases and even things such as new underwear and pillows. Items the children wish for may include anything from a new bicycle to an electronic tablet.
A young adult is in foster care until age 21 and wish lists for young people may include new tires, household items and even expensive electronic devices, which one might use to develop skills or even find a job.
Friends of Foster Kids accepts donations of new toys, clothes, personal care products and more at its office at Nachi, 17500 23 Mile Road. Drop-off hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. The group also accepts cash from service clubs, businesses and individuals to buy items. Toia and partner Karen Szczotka may ask retailers for discounts, or shop for items year-round to find the best prices.
The items are stored, sorted and wrapped at the Friends of Foster Kids office, which moves to a new workshop location every year. Toia started the nonprofit out of her home in 2007 after learning from her daughter, a foster care case worker, that there were a number of foster kids who didn’t receive Christmas presents.
Toia teamed with Szczotka and the nonprofit continued to grow until they were unable to operate out of Toia’s home. The duo search for donated warehouse or office space every year to run the nonprofit.
It’s in that donated space that the Christmas magic begins for Macomb County foster kids. Numerous new toys, racks of new coats, games, bins of clothes and hat-and-scarf sets, and even a small room of bicycles await preparation.
Volunteers – whom Toia calls Christmas angels – spend weeks prior to Christmas going over wish lists, shopping, wrapping and bagging items for case workers, who deliver wrapped gifts to the foster kids.
“I am fortunate that I was always able to provide for my son. I feel there are too many kids out there that need things that people can’t afford to buy them. I feel we should help,” said volunteer Sophia Uhlman, who spent an afternoon wrapping gifts.
While the nonprofit always welcomes volunteers and donations, the public has the opportunity to help Friends of Foster Kids and have fun. On Dec. 21, Sky Zone, a new indoor trampoline park located at 50810 Sabrina Dr. in Shelby Township, will host a fundraiser for the nonprofit in which they will donate $7 of the $14 they charge for one hour of bounce time. The community is welcome to bounce anytime during the day.
Donations of new gifts, cash, wrapping paper, ribbon, boxes and supplies are always needed. For information or to shop for a specific item, call Friends of Foster Kids at 586-307-4483, or visit the website at friendsoffosterkids.org or its Facebook page.