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'Breakfast With Santa' for foster families

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Jacquelyn Carrier greeted the foster children with a sense of familiarity, and they returned her greeting with the same warmth.

"You'll find your family in the most interesting places, being in foster care," said the 18-year-old. "I like seeing everybody smiling and laughing. It makes me smile."

On Dec. 13, Carrier took part in the seventh annual "Breakfast With Santa," a sort of grass roots, all-volunteer event to honor foster families in the area. The breakfast, held at Longhorn Steakhouse in McDonough, serves more than 130 individuals through funds raised throughout the year by the restaurant and other individuals.

"It's the best way in which all the case managers, children, families, and community get together to see each other socially," said Elizabeth Shannon, who is heavily involved in the area's foster-care issues. She, herself, is a foster parent. Some years ago, she adopted Carrier.

Carrier, who at one time, lived next-door to Shannon, said she encountered domestic issues a few years ago. Her father died, and her mother was suffering from a drug-abuse problem.

Carrier was subsequently placed at A Friend's House, the area's 90-day emergency shelter for children in crisis.

"Dec. 4, 2005, I remember that day," Carrier said. It is the day, about four months after her father's death, that she called police on her mother and became a foster child.

In foster care, Carrier admits being fearful about her future and her chances of finding a new family. "Who would take a teenager?" she said. Elizabeth Shannon did.

Carrier said that with Shannon's help, she is considered a stand-out student at Henry County High School. She plays on the school's soccer team, and is a ranking cadet in the Navy JROTC Program.

"I'm just a lucky kid," said Carrier, whose mother is now drug free. "It's been tough through everything I've been through," she said. "I don't think I would have made it without her [Shannon]."

Carrier has volunteered to help serve foster families over the past several years. "I'm glad they have somewhere to go for Christmas," she said. "When you're in foster care, you go through so much. But you do have family. You might not realize it at the time, but you do."

Beverly Taylor, a server and trainer at Longhorn, created the breakfast concept in 2002, in which foster children are given a free breakfast and other gifts. "This is my baby," Taylor said. "I do it because I love these kids. These kids are forgotten. I feel a lot of love."

About 52 children from the Henry County Foster Care Association, and their foster families were invited to the breakfast.

This year, more volunteers were involved. People from the community, workers at the restaurant, and members of the Henry County Fire Department played the classic Christmas parts, some dressed as elves, while couple, Lonnie and Melinda Shirley, dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus.

One volunteer, Jeff Taylor, has volunteered to cook the morning feast since its inception. Taylor, also a chef at the restaurant, wakes up at 4 a.m., on his Saturday off. He travels from his home in Jonesboro to McDonough and fires up the restaurant grill, hoping to have enough food prepared for about three dozen families by 8 a.m.

"It's all about the kids," he said. "I look at what I've got, and I don't have much. But I am blessed. I want to pass it on to the kids. The gratitude is in looking at the kids."