The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) will provide Christmas presents for approximately 6,000 children and teens in the state’s foster care system this year.
OICA CEO and former Oklahoma state representative Joe Dorman said the organization took over the program in October.
“OK Foster Wishes started as a project of Life.Church,” Dorman says. “Lisa Feist oversaw the program for many years, and we are excited to continue the work she began.”
OK Foster Wishes provides presents for children birth through 18-plus who are “somewhere in the DHS system.” The state’s foster program provides for teenagers until they are 18 and a half, at which point they age out of the system. Dorman said the program seeks to ensure that all foster kids get presents, both as a way of ensuring children have a good Christmas and to alleviate some of the financial difficulties of foster families.
“These families open their lives and homes to young people, and we want to help them by taking some of the pressure off,” Dorman explains. “Yes, they get a stipend, but it’s not usually enough – and this year, thanks to cuts to the state programs, the state foster reimbursement stipend has been reduced, meaning they get even less financial assistance than before.”
The children (or foster parents, if the child is too young) submit a wish list, and Dorman said some of the requests are heartbreaking, in that they are often composed of basic necessities, not things kids would typically request for Christmas.
“We take the lists, and try to give them the things on the list, but we also supplement them with items not on the lists,” Dorman says. “The presents are definitely toy or fun-focused, but we do include some necessities like clothing.”
OK Foster Wishes operates out of a warehouse on South Meridian that is divided into three sections: one for Oklahoma County, one for the rest of the state and a Santa’s Workshop, where families who are late in the application process can still come get gifts. Presents are distributed through county DHS offices, except in Oklahoma City, where families can come pick up the gifts.
Dorman said the OICA would like to expand the program and locations to statewide pickup centers beginning next year, and they are always seeking volunteer partners to help with financial donations, drop-off locations and unwrapped toys.
“The Oklahoma City Fire Department was amazing this year,” Dorman smiles. “Of the 6,000 lists we had, the fire department fulfilled 500 lists on their own. It was a tremendous show of support and generosity.”
Information about the program, including ways to be involved for individuals and organizations, is on the OK Foster Wishes website: OICA.org/OKFosterWishes.
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