GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — During Wendy Wheeler's favorite time of the year, she and other Kent County Health and Human Services Department employees were shopping. That year, they had crossed almost everything off the list of things that local foster children wanted for Christmas.
Except for one thing for one little boy.
"We were getting right down to the holidays. We knew we just had to go with what we had. This child asked for a very specific Transformer, and I didn't have one, but I had a gift card. So I was going to give him a gift card hoping that afterward, maybe he could go pick out his own," Wheeler said.
The day after accepting the consolation prize for the little boy, something strange happened.
"I was here in the building right after 7 a.m. The building had just opened and I just kind of glanced over to the box that had been empty the night before. And at 7 a.m. there was one item in that box. And it was the exact Transformer that child was asking for. I said to the security desk who brought this in. He said nobody. No one has been here," Wheeler said.
That instance is one of a few times the department staff consider to be a "Christmas miracle."
But for children entering the foster care system during the holidays, maybe anything that brings cheer to the holidays could be considered a Christmas miracle. That's what the department staff is hoping to deliver as they collect donations of toys, clothes, shoes, socks, and blankets for children who have entered the system between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"There's no child more vulnerable right now during this season than these kiddos who are just moving, trying to get their bearings in a new home," Wheeler said.
Once it's determined that a child is unsafe in their own home, the first step is to try to find a relative they can stay with until the situation at their home improves. If a relative is available and a child moves in with them during the holidays, that means they usually don't have much time to prepare.
"Imagine if all of a sudden nieces and nephews were in your living room that you weren't planning on having yesterday," Wheeler said.
"That's where we come in and just try and make that situation a little bit easier for everyone involved - bring some cheer and take some stress off of the caregivers, and make sure the kids know that someone's still there for them. Santa's still coming."
If you'd like to donate, you can purchase items from the department's Amazon Wishlist. Or, if you'd like to shop local you can pick an item from the list below and drop it off at their offices located at 121 Martin Luther King Jr. Street SE in Grand Rapids.
The Department of Health and Human Services would also like to encourage anyone who might have room in their home for a foster child to consider foster adoption. The state has information on foster adoption on its website, or you can call 1-855-MICHKIDS.
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