Area foster children, families enjoy winter wonderland Christmas party
Thanks to dozens of warm hearts and busy hands, every foster child and family in Ozark, Douglas and Wright Counties was welcomed with open arms to an extravagant Christmas party thrown in their honor Dec. 14 in Ava.
“We all have those moments from our childhood that are magical and hold a special place in our hearts,” volunteer Stacy Garrison told the Times after the event. “We wanted these children and families to experience that.”
The party was a joint effort of Division of Family Services employees, area churches, individuals and many community members in the three-county area.
Garrison, a fifth grade teacher at Gainesville Elementary School, lives in Gainesville with her husband, Brian Garrison, a pastor of Ava Assembly of God Church.
A winter wonderland
The magic began when the special guests entered the beautifully decorated gym at the Ava Nazarene Church.
The large room was lit in a deep blue hue, and tiny white Christmas lights twinkled from the walls, creating the feeling of freshly falling snow.
Large swaths of sheer material exploded from the center of the ceiling and stretched to the far walls of the gym, creating a wintry display. Blue snowflakes hung just below the dramatic draping, glittering with the reflection of the lights.
Dozens of tables were decked out with blue and white tablecloths and topped off with glitzy winter wonderland centerpieces featuring crystal covered tree branches and glowing candlelight.
A special staging area in the front of the room featured a white silhouetted forest scene and two stately armchairs occupied by a jolly Santa and Mrs. Claus, who visited with the children throughout the event.
Full bellies and happy hearts
A traditional Christmas dinner, served by Douglas County Sheriff Chris DeGase and his deputies, featured ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls and butter. More than 250 people enjoyed the Christmas meal, which was extra special to many of the foster children as they have faced significant food insecurity at different points in their short lives, organizers said.
After dinner, guests were treated to a hot cocoa bar, featuring traditional mini marshmallows and a variety of other toppings as well as an extensive display of Christmas pies, cookies, cupcakes, brownies and other desserts.
Hundreds of wrapped presents made their way into the gym, the result of each child’s Christmas wish list, written earlier this month, being fulfilled by individuals and area churches.
Each child was also given a personalized duffle bag, featuring their name, filled with full stockings, candy and other items. Garrison said one church also provided each child with a big box filled with thoughtful gifts, in addition to their wish list gifts.
The night ended with lots of smiles, warm hearts and happy Christmas tidings.
The army behind the party
The Christmas party was made possible with hundreds of hours of work and dozens of people who each had their own individual touch in making the night special, Garrison said.
“The outpouring of love that this community poured out to help ensure that these foster children had a magical night was overwhelming,” she wrote on Facebook after the event. “…Thanks to you all, we were able to fulfill 167 wish lists. With a vision above anything I thought possible, a gym was turned into a winter wonderland. The workers, thanks to the generous donations, poured their hearts and souls into providing personalized duffle bags, pillows and stuffed stockings. We had businesses and organizations that donated enough pillow cases, flashlights, candy bars, stockings, toothbrushes and water bottles to give 175 kids one each…our sheriff’s department showed up to serve dinner. Men and women stopped everything to set up and clean up, cook and decorate, shop and wrap. I am telling you, until you are a part of it, you have no idea how much love is poured out.”
Garrison said she couldn’t begin to name everyone who had a hand in the event, including many fellow Ozark County residents, for fear she would forget to name someone, but she expressed her sincere gratitude to each and every person who pitched in. She said the foster children in the area wouldn’t have had nearly as special a party if it weren’t for everyone involved.
“The workers were truly amazing. They are the heart and soul of the night. A special thanks to Candice Mayberry, Kayla Premer and Tamara Collins. Without them, and the many others, the night could not have happened. I know saying ‘thank you’ is not enough, but my gratitude to everyone is truly is heartfelt,” Garrison said.
To become involved in events for foster families in the 44th Circuit, which encompasses Ozark, Douglas and Wright counties, contact Wendy Donley with Ozark County’s Helping Hands organization at 417-989-0710, or Tamara Collins with the Douglas/Wright County charity Faith Meets Foster, at 417-683-2526.