Pick an Elf program asking for help this holiday season

By Billy Corriher

This Thanksgiving, as most parents start thinking about what to buy their children for Christmas, many foster parents will worry about how they'll afford gifts for the children in their care.

In Clayton County, many foster families rely on local residents and businesses to help through the Department of Family and Children Services' Pick an Elf program.

Foster mom Glenda Horton, who organizes the program, said that since the county does not have enough foster families, some parents have had to take on five or six foster children. And since many of the foster parents are of modest means and may have children of their own, many depend on Pick an Elf to help.

This year, though, the directors of the program fear they will have a hard time providing gifts for the 500 children and 85 older adults in their care.

DFCS Acting Deputy Director Chuck Fischer said the country's economic conditions have impacted so people's ability to donate gifts, and the program is in dire need of sponsors this year.

Fischer said that some church groups that are normally supportive have even had trouble finding the money to contribute.

"Now, they're saying they've got several parishioners who they need to help," he said.

The DFCS' caseload is also likely to increase in the coming weeks, Fischer said. "Sometimes, the holidays actually increase the amount of children in our care," he said, adding that holiday stress and parents who party too much are a factor. "It's conceivable we could get 20 more kids this year."

Horton said foster moms and the DFCS have asked the state for money to buy gifts for foster children, but the answer has always been no.

Other counties in the Atlanta area are also strapped to find gifts for foster children, Horton said. "Everybody's in the same boat," she said. "And I don't think that with the (state of Georgia's) budgetary shortfalls we'll be getting the money anytime soon."

The county has particularly had a tough time finding sponsors for the teenagers the DFCS works with, because they are sometimes harder to shop for. Horton said many sponsors prefer to buy gifts for small children or, if the sponsors want to deliver the gifts personally, older adults, whose Christmas lists are usually more basic ? a new blanket, warm pajamas, etc.

"We actually encourage sponsors to deliver gifts to the older people because a lot of them really don't get many visitors," Horton said.

In addition to asking the community for presents, Pick an Elf is also asking for volunteers Dec. 1 through 11 to help wrap, organize and give the gifts to foster parents.