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Elves needed for DFCS' foster children

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

"And, in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy. Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time," sang a large group of 1980s British and Irish pop singers in "Do they know its Christmas?"

Even Santa Clause needs a little help from time to time.

The Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) needs a lot of help as it once again tries to wear the Santa hat for approximately 325 foster children.

The Clayton DFCS traditionally gets people to serve as Christmas sponsors for the children through the "Pick an Elf" program. The sponsors buy toys for the children, so they can receive gifts on Christmas.

As of Tuesday, the department had sponsors for about 200 youngsters, or "elves," during this holiday season. DFCS officials are calling on residents, businesses, churches and community groups to step up and adopt Little Johnny or Jane for Christmas. The gifts will be distributed to foster parents this weekend.

"The children have already had so many disappointments in their lives," said Renée A. Johnson, the coordinator of the "Pick an Elf" program. "This helps brighten their day. It lets them know we're not going to let Christmas go by without making sure they are remembered as well."

Johnson said DFCS' goal this year is to make sure each foster child receives at least one or two items from their Christmas wish lists this year. "It's not big, but we try to give them something."

The economy has played a large role in a decline in contributions, Johnson added. As the economy has faltered, some companies who made donations to the agency in the past have not been able to give again. Other corporations have cut the size of their financial donations in half.

At the same time, the number of people coming to DFCS for assistance has increased by 30 percent.

"The economy has been tough this year," said Johnson. "People started calling at the end of September, asking for help with Christmas gifts... Our name is out there for everything. People say 'If you need help, go to DFCS,' so people will call and ask for assistance."

Among the popular items for children under 12, Johnson said bicycles and anything which says "High School Musical," or "Hannah Montana" is desired. She added teenagers generally like to ask for MP3 players and digital cameras.

"The teenagers are probably the forgotten bunch," said Kemberly Watkins, a resource development supervisor. "They generally just get gift cards, which they don't mind, but it's not the same. They probably look forward to this more than the younger kids. They just don't show it as much."

Contact Johnson at (770)473-2490, to find out more about the "Pick an Elf" program.