Jennifer McDonald

Jennifer McDonald heads up the Secret Santa program for Walker County children who are in foster care. (Contributed photo)

There are 168 Walker County children in foster care, and they could use your kindhearted generosity this Christmas.

Foster parents receive help paying for daily expenses, but there are no funds available to offer extra help for Christmas gifts.

Enter Secret Santa. Children are asked to compile a wish list, says Jennifer McDonald, Walker County Secret Santa coordinator. "We tell them to include up to seven things they’d really like to have, including one big item, like a bike or something electronic, and some smaller items." McDonald says she also makes sure the lists include clothing sizes.

The lists are then made available to those who would like to fulfill a child’s wishes. "There are other ways people and businesses can help, too," says McDonald. "Any help at all makes a difference."

"I remember one foster mother who came to us crying," McDonald says. "She was so moved by the gifts people donated for her foster daughter. She said the little girl had never had a Christmas and she was ecstatic over the bike and other gifts she got."

"Last year," says NaTasha Christian, resource developer for Walker County Department of Family and Children Services, "a former foster family who had adopted their foster children donated 10 tablets and $300 for the Secret Santa program."

Dave and Dana Williams, who have fostered 120 children over the past ten years, and usually have multiple foster children in their home, as well as children they’ve adopted, say that the donated gifts really help. "We always get the children some gifts just from us, but the gifts people give through the Secret Santa program really round out Christmas and make it special."

How to help

Whether you’re an individual or a business, there are numerous ways to help foster children know they’re loved this Christmas.

- You can contact McDonald and receive one or more wish lists from children and you can shop for those children and deliver the gifts to a drop-off location (see below).

- You can donate any amount of money and McDonald will find someone to shop for the children.

- You can donate items to be added to gifts or stockings (every child gets a stocking). Candy, ornaments, markers, crayons, colored pencils, advanced coloring books, small toys, jewelry, and gift cards ($5 gift cards from restaurants are nice) are good ideas. Think about what you would have liked in a stocking when you were a child. Children range in age from toddlers to teens, so a variety is needed.

"We really need gifts and donations by Dec. 1," McDonald says, "because we have children placed all over the state due to the shortage of foster homes in our area. We have to deliver gifts in many counties, as far as Brunswick, over 400 miles away."

Gifts should not be wrapped (though packages of gift wrap are appreciated).

If you or your business would like to make Christmas special for some children in foster care, here’s the info you need.

- Contact Jennifer McDonald at 423-413-2360 or walkercountysecretsanta@gmail.com

- Drop-off locations and times are:

Walker County DFCS (M-F, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.), 10056 N. Hwy 27, Rock Spring

The Vine Church (Wednesdays and Fridays, 3 p.m.-6 p.m.), 50 Industrial Dr., Chickamauga

- Pick-up. If you cannot drop off gifts or donations, McDonald says she can arrange to have them picked up. See her contact info above.

Finally, Christian says she wants to remind people in the area that Walker County DFCS is always in need of good foster homes. Christian can be reached at 423-355-8097.