The season of giving often is associated with food drives, red kettles and toy collection bins. But a local nonprofit is bringing awareness to the needs of foster families and asking the community to help bring the holiday spirit into their homes.
The Orange/Seminole Foster Children's Association (OSFCA) offers a range of assistance for foster and adoptive parents. Founded in 1986, the association originally served foster families in Orange and Seminole counties but has since expanded to include Osceola County. Monthly meetings provide guidance, ongoing training and emotional support. The association also helps foster families provide all of their children with a happy holiday season via an angel tag tree.
“We support the foster families as a whole,” said OSFCA president Jerry Pitzer, who estimates a total of 55 foster households in the West Orange County area. “We want foster children to be blended into the families that they live with, as if they are their children.”
To that end, each child in a foster household - whether they are biological or fostered - is allowed to request seven wishes, each limited to $30. The child’s first name, clothing sizes and wishes are included on a tag. Those willing to donate take the tags and purchase the gifts. Many area businesses accept multiple tags and create an angel tree so employees and customers can donate.
“We supply seven gifts so the family can buy every child that one gift they cant live without,” said Pitzer. “You can take your Christmas budget, that you normally would spend on your biological children, and split it among all the children and, therefore, meet the big want of the year for everyone.”
“I’m a school teacher, so I've always been involved with children and I've always wanted to foster,” said Winter Garden resident Jennifer Downs, who has benefitted from OSFCA services. “When the time arose that I was able to financially support myself I dove in and went to foster classes and got registered and did all the paperwork, background checks and became a foster parent.”
Downs, who teaches 6th grade science at SunRidge Middle School, began fostering 10 years ago. She opened her home to 18 children in seven years, and adopted her 9-year-old son, Jaxon, in 2013. She paused fostering in 2019, after a breast cancer diagnosis. Currently in remission, she plans to return to fostering in the future but has taken charge of OSFCA’s angel tag efforts.
As last year’s COVID-19 shut down affected contributing businesses, along with the ability of residents to shop in person. Many area schools that typically donate, including Dr. Phillips High, were unable to make their on-site angel tree. Downs pivoted to web-based contributions by creating an Amazon Wish List. She stored the gifts and helped with distribution, and discovered even more people were willing to contribute through the online option. “Members can share through their Facebook accounts and we received premiss to post on Winter Garden Rants, Raves and Reviews, so it worked out really well."
With many businesses operation out-of-office, and some ceasing operations as a result of the pandemic, the decision was made to keep the virtual option going this year.
“It's so easy just to click a button from home and make a difference,” Downs said.