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DFCS elfs bring holiday joy to foster children

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The amount of toys collected by the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services for foster children has been so great in recent years that Laurence Nelson, the agency's social services supervisor, decided to expand the holding area to an adjacent computer lab this year.

The computers were gathered on the floor along the walls. The tables were covered with board games, diapers and beauty products, while basketballs, soccer balls and bicycles sat on the floor. In the original holding room, oversized stockings were stuffed with toys, awaiting the arrival of children to pick them up.

"These are children who may not have parents anymore, so we are their parents," Nelson said. "It's our responsibility to make sure they have a Christmas."

DFCS is responsible for 350 foster children this year, as well as at least 1,200 children from disadvantaged families.

The "Pick an Elf" program, which DFCS organizes every year, is designed to let the community, companies and civic groups bring toys and other presents for the children.

The children make up Christmas lists, which contain roughly 10 items they really want to see under the Christmas tree this year. Some of the popular items, particularly with teenagers, include gift cards, MP3 players, digital cameras and computers.

Shannon Hutchins and Alvie Huntley, both employees of Century 21 in Riverdale, brought in four bags of toys on Wednesday. Century 21 had to be contacted about participating in the program last year, but it was the realty company which initiated contact this year.

"It's the county we work in," Hutchins said. "We want to give back to the community whenever we can. This provides children with an opportunity they may not have otherwise," she continued.

"This is the season of giving," Huntley added. "The best part is coming here and seeing how much people are giving."

While DFCS had collected enough toys and presents to provide a Christmas for almost every one of the foster children, Nelson said there are obstacles to fulfilling wish lists each year, especially as new technology comes out.

"The lists are getting more expensive. There are ways to adjust, though. Say a child asks for an iPod, which is expensive. You don't have to get the iPod for the child, but you can get him or her a nice MP3 player for about $30 or $40."

The agency relies on the kindness of organizations, such as the City of Atlanta's Empty Stocking Fund, and the Clayton County and Lake Spivey Rotary Clubs, which donated $1,600 to the "Pick an Elf" program on Wednesday.