For children in foster care, guardianship, in a health home, or in the adoption process through G.A. Family Services in Jamestown, the holiday months can often be a confusing time. However one tradition the families and children look forward to year after year is their annual Christmas dinner with Santa. This group event is when gift donations that come in from the community as part of G.A.’s annual Angel Tree program are given to the children by Santa himself. The event was at risk of being cancelled this year due to COVID-19, but the staff were determined to deliver the magic of Christmas by reimagining the event for 2020.
“Usually our Christmas event features dinner, live music, activities, and a special visit with Santa. We had 120 kids last year and were expecting over 130 this year. We had to do something,” said Ericka Garcia-Allison, LMSW, Director of Community Based Services at G.A. Family Services. “In coordination with Santa, we began working on a drive-thru style event for the families to visit us in a socially-distant, safe way,” said Garcia-Allison. Christmas gift donations came in for the children as they always do from community individuals, businesses, and organizations but the logistics of the new event was the focus of much of the planning.
In coordination with the Maintenance Department at the Hultquist Place Assisted Living Program on the Lutheran Campus in Jamestown, an outdoor gazebo was turned into “Santa’s Workshop” where the donated children’s gifts, wreaths, and snacks were distributed car-by-car as families pulled up to the curb at their prescheduled times. All food items were either donated by commercial businesses or prepared ahead of time to follow all recommended health safety protocols to protect the families and staff from COVID-19 exposure. The event doubled as entertainment for the seniors residing at Hultquist Place as they watched and laughed through their windows at Santa and his elves running back and forth from the gazebo to the cars.
“The community really came together to make sure that the kids we serve through our G.A. programs had gifts this year from Santa,” said Kathleen Maynard, MSW, Family Resource Coordinator with G.A. Family Services. “It was amazing how fast the Angel Tree gifts tags were sponsored and how many people and organizations came together to make sure this event still took place. It was very moving considering how difficult this year has been for so many,” said Maynard.
Area organizations that mobilized individual donors for the event included Bethel Lutheran Church, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Family Health Medical Services, Tree of Life Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bethel Baptist Christian Academy, Busti Church of God, American Legion- William L. Travis Post #493, Jamestown State Trooper Barracks, Westfield Savings Bank, and the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
“We are so thankful and gracious to our donors and I cannot thank the rest of our G.A. staff enough for the extra effort they put into making this year’s drive-thru gift event a success,” said Maynard.
To get involved or learn more about G.A.Family Services, foster care, guardianship, health homes, or adoption of local children in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany Counties, visit www.gafamilyservices.org or call 716-708-6161.
G.A. Family Services was founded on a tradition of caring and compassion toward youth and provides a full continuum of services for at-risk youth and their families.