Photo by Jeylin White
Clayton County school district officials, staff, and community members volunteer at the Clayton County Homeless Education Department’s gift-distribution event, Thursday. Families were given gifts by sponsors, to assist them this holiday season.
The atmosphere got a bit emotional at the Clayton County Homeless Education Department, Thursday afternoon, as Andreannia Craig, of Stockbridge, was greeted by a contingent of school district staff members, administrators, and volunteers.
Craig had just arrived to receive a bag filled with toys for her three children, for Christmas. “I had no idea what I was going to do for my children this Christmas,” said an emotional Craig. “I’m just so happy.”
Craig had a hard time holding back tears, as she was greeted with warm hugs from Sonia Davis, coordinator of Homeless Education, and Superintendent Edmond Heatley and his administrative team.
And Craig was not alone. Scores of families were overtaken with emotions as they walked through the doors to see the mountains of gifts purchased for them, specifically by their sponsors.
Former communications assistant for the district, Jacque Evans, was on hand –– as a volunteer –– to greet the families this year. She said, through the homeless education holiday gift sponsorship program, 224 students where sponsored this year, which equals about 80 families.
Evans said the annual gift program has been available in the district for 10 years. She added that families are interviewed for the holiday gifts, starting in November, then paired with a sponsor.
Davis said the families are referred from the school counselors, and then brought in for an interview. “[During the interview], we have them make a wish list of what they want for Christmas,” said Davis.
That’s when sponsors –– members of the school district’s staff and the community –– are contacted about families they would be interested in sponsoring. Davis said this year’s sponsors had a choice to either go shopping with a family, or supply gift cards.
In order for the families to qualify for homeless education department services, Davis said, they must be homeless and have children attending Clayton County public schools.
Evans elaborated, saying for a family to be considered homeless, it must meet the following guidelines: Living in motels or hotels; living with friends and families; living in a homeless shelter or transitional facility; awaiting foster care placement; or be a homeless youth not in physical custody of parent or guardian; or abandoned in a hospital.
Craig said she lost her job, and was evicted from her home in August. She added that she has been living with her sister since October and has had a hard time finding work. She said her son, Lucan, 9, attends Mt. Zion Elementary School, and it was his school counselor who informed her about the services offered at the Homeless Education Department.
“The school sent me a letter about the program,” she said, “and I just came in and filled out the application and went through the interview process.”
Craig said receiving the gifts has filled her heart with holiday joy. “I feel so much better,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “I was so sad that I could not do anything for Christmas –– but I feel really good now.”
Evans said district officials were big contributors and sponsors this year, joining businesses and organizations, such as Hearts to Nourish Hope; Children’s Restoration Network, a children’s organization based in Atlanta, and the Clayton County Sheriffs Office.
“We had one sponsor, who gave a $350 gift card to a family of six.” said Evans. “It’s really good to know we have a community here, and the support of the [district’s] administrative team.”