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Spreading cheer to foster families

Sun., Dec. 17, 2006

The $100 gift certificate to Triple Play was a score for Mary Bren and her family.

With five kids – sometimes more – the Kellogg family can’t typically afford trips to the amusement center, she said.

The bags full of presents handed out after the raffle drawings were a bonus for Bren’s family and the 68 other foster families gathered Saturday in Post Falls for their annual Christmas party.

“We come here every year, and we always bring whoever’s living with us at the time,” said Bren, who has been a foster mother to 61 children in the past six years.

All the children who come to the annual holiday party – biological, adopted and foster children alike – receive gifts.

Bren said she knows what the gifts mean to the foster kids who come to her from troubled homes, but she said the presents mean a lot to her own children, too.

“It’s a whole family taking in these kids,” she said. “This is a way for us to say thank you to our kids.”

About 300 children received presents during Saturday’s party, which was organized by Idaho Youth Ranch and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The families ate together as foster care worker Maggie Morrison drew raffle tickets for prizes ranging from Butterball turkeys to grocery gift certificates to video games and even a TV.

Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls police officers worked the room, handing out stuffed toys to children while families were called one by one to the front of the Post Falls High cafeteria.

The littlest children sat on Santa’s knees, the older ones sat on the floor in front of him, and the eldest gathered on either side of Santa’s rocking chair and crowded behind him.

After a family picture with Santa, his helpers loaded the children up with bags full of gifts. The children headed back to their tables, excitedly pulling out presents and tearing off the gift wrap.

One boy awkwardly carried a skateboard, almost as long as he was tall, and dragged a bag of presents along behind him.

“On average these families have five extra kids in the home,” said Morrison, speaking loudly so she could be heard over the excited chatter of 300 kids and a refrain of “Jingle Bells” in the background.

Saturday was the seventh year Morrison, an Idaho Youth Ranch employee, attended the annual Christmas party for foster children from Idaho’s five northern counties.

In that time, the number of children being served by foster care has doubled – a staggering increase that Morrison attributes to North Idaho’s meth epidemic.

Idaho Youth Ranch, which oversees and coordinates foster care for Health and Welfare, is having a hard time finding enough families to care for those kids, Morrison said. She said they have even had a hard time finding homes for infants, something that hasn’t been an issue in the past.

Despite a shortage of foster homes, Morrison said there’s been no shortage in the community’s generosity and kindness.

So many gifts were donated for the foster kids and their families that organizers actually had extras to share with 20 struggling families outside the foster care program.

New foster dad Mike Bingham, of Coeur d’Alene, was at the party for the first time and was blown away by the outpouring.

“This is awesome,” he said. “This is awesome.”


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