The Giving Tree
Foster kids often enter foster care with very little. What they do have is typically stuffed into a trash bag & hastily tossed into a case workers trunk. The important treasures, clothes & toys are often left behind and now the kids gets to start over...with nothing.
Once a kiddo moves into a new home he will need to be outfitted from the ground up in clothing, shoes, school supplies, toys, and personal care products. This is no cheap undertaking even for the uber prepared super shopper.
What the Foster Parents Buy
What's the financial reality for foster parents? It's not the lotto, you don't make money...at all. Fostering kids is expensive. I typically take teen boys & I often spend $600-900 the week they move in which includes....
- Backpack & school supplies...the nice stuff.
- Sneakers, flip flops & a pair of dress shoes.
- Several packs of socks & underwear (a must)
- 3-4 pairs of jeans, several pairs of shorts, dress pants and swim trunks.
- 10 t-shirts, a couple packs of undershirts, several dress shirts several hoodies, a coat & a jacket.
- A bedding set that they pick out, new pillows & a couple towels in their favorite color.
- Several posters to make the room feel like theirs.
- A couple video games and a controller for just them.
- A full set of hygiene gear from acne scrub to toothpaste and shampoo.
Now after getting all of that I will be reimbursed a grand total of $342 per month. That's right I will wait six weeks to collect that giant check for about 1/3 of what I spent on the second day they arrived. Now unless you don't feed them or let them out of the house you are already in the hole here. We haven't even talked about school pics, dances, sports, scouts, field trips, movies, theme parks, bikes, skateboards & all the other must have crap for teenage life. Seriously these kids are expensive!
Why does this all matter? Well, when holidays come around many foster parents really can't afford to go crazy because the kids simply Need so many things that luxury items are out of the question. This is where You come in!
The Sad Truth
There is nothing more distressing than asking a typical greedy self absorbed kid what they want for Christmas & hearing...
- Whatever gets donated.
- I don't know, I've never gotten a Christmas present.
- Santa doesn't come to our house.
- Santa hates us.
- We're bad kids and don't get presents.
Even someone with the budgeting skills of Dave Ramsey will bust out a credit card at this point. Christmas is supposed to be an amazing time of the year where you spend time with family, get a vacation from school & get loaded down with cool stuff. It's simply magical! Unless of course you are stuck in foster care away from your family & looking forward to uncertainty and the dreaded gift of underpants under the tree. To a kid this is basically the end of the world...or it should be. Most take it like champs and really make the best of it.
What to buy?
Typically most people do donate socks & underwear & some basics. But really the kids have that stuff after the first week or two in care so what they really need are a couple cool things. It's Christmas after all!
Clearance sections is where I find loot for a gaggle of kids on a budget. Last years hoodie? Pfft this years Christmas! My kids may be in foster care but they are gonna look cool & be dressed in nice clothing. (FYI this section is for the older kidoos)
- Woot.com is also a wicked way to save cash. They often have headphones for $2-10 a pair...the good ones! I stock up. The toy section is always awesome...it all changes daily.
- Next time you are in Aeropostale check out the clearance section...I bet you can find a slick hoodie for under $15 and maybe even a tee for $7. Hollister.com does deep discounts...at some point I got tee's for under $4 a piece.
- Close out bins at Clair's...Perfect for adding necklaces, bracelets & earring to the stash.
- Spencer's & Hot Topic...I know it's a visual assault on your senses but they have really cool stuff in those close out bins. Think of the kids!
- Groupon...hit or miss & takes a while to get stuff.
- Walmart has great gift sets for teens around the holidays...little kids don't want this stuff, so 13 and up only. The axe travel case is always popular & make-up sets are huge. Nail polish kits are nice too.
- Gift cards are sometimes not allowed so check with your area before donating.
- Used stuff is OK...but make it good. Gaming systems, iPod's, kindles & the like will make a kid flip out. Even the really old Game Boys are fine.
- A digital camera...a must for a kid in care. It's nice for them to be able to have pics of the people that matter.
Just keep in mind these kids are used to hand me downs & cheap things that we can get quickly. So try to get a few nicer name brand things to make them feel good. Also teens get picked dead last on the tree to try to get a few things for the older kiddos. The little's are easy to shop for but big kids need love too!
For the little's...
If you just can't help yourself and simply Must buy for the babies and little kids (it's fine they always need toys!) then this is easy.
Playsets are the absolute best for these kiddos. Be sure to get some action figures or little people to go with the set. Think littlest pet shop or the DC action hero toys. Anything with wheels...from pull toys and hot wheels to trikes or bikes....if you get a bike, skateboard or scooter please get a matching helmet for them.
Whatever you buy make sure it's ready to play with, put the batteries in (and send an extra pack), assemble it, basically have it ready to play with. These items go right under the tree so foster parents may not know to buy a certain accessory or battery before the "Big day" and nobody wants a kids to get a toy they can't play with yet.
Where to donate
Most Walmarts have a giving tree for kids in need. If you want to donate specifically to foster kids just call the local DFS office & ask where their donation tree is. You can usually pick out a specific child & shop off their list. Most kids don't have much on the list so be sure to take care of them if you pick a kiddo.
If you're like me & shop all year for the holidays then simply pick up extra stuff in any size (as long as it's cool) then match the stuff you have to the kid on the tree. This really helps because some kids get loaded down while others get almost nothing. Spreading the love around means several kids get at least one nice gift. Their name stays on the tree until their list is filled so it's not like they won't still get more loot.
While we never actually put our fosters on the tree we did make sure they were looted out like there was no tomorrow! I figured I had quite a few Christmas's to make up for.
We also actively help with the local giving tree & help hunt down donations for the other kids in our county.
Diane Cass from New York on October 23, 2014:
I admire people who are responsible foster parents. The kids really need a loving home.
Ann Hinds from So Cal on September 14, 2014:
Dressing the kids in cool clothes makes me happy. Too often, foster kids end up with leftovers which does nothing to boost their already battered self esteem. Bless you for taking this small step that is so big in their eyes.
Fay Favored from USA on September 07, 2014:
So good to see this here. We have been blessed to have been a part of bringing tidings of great joy into the homes of foster and adopted kids for many years. I hope more people get on board after reading your article.
Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on September 01, 2014:
My Sunday Dchool class always does Christmas for a local family in need but I have really never thought to consider specifically Foster Children. Thanks for sharing.
Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on August 31, 2014:
This was a very interesting read. WOOT is a great suggestion too; I've gotten some wonderful deals on that site. YAY for foster parents!
JoleneBelmain on August 31, 2014:
One of my best friends is a foster parent, and she is one of the good ones all foster kids wished they had. She gives those children the homes they've never had and within hours makes them feel like they've been a part of the family their whole lives.
I used to donate to the Angel Tree (for low income families) when I could afford to, as I used to receive from them when I was a child. I now have 4 kids of my own so am usually not able to contribute in other places.
If we ever get back into a financial position to do so, I would gladly donate to any of those children in need, whether from low income or fostered children. Every child deserves a Christmas!