Foster kids get holiday spirit at special party

See why volunteers each year turn the outer East Portland DHS office into a delightful wonderland for hundreds of kids during the Holiday season …

Amanda Martinez and Sherry Robinson, children living in foster care, say they’re thankful they can enjoy a delicious Holiday meal and the DHS Holiday Party events.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While many people find the Holidays taxing, consider the stress felt by a child living in foster care at Christmastime.

“When parents are unable to keep their children safe,” explained Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) Social Service Specialist, Mary Boehme, “the children are often placed in foster care with relatives or non-relative families. Parents are given an opportunity to change their circumstances in order to reunite. The Holidays are a difficult time for the children and parents alike.”

For the eighth year in a row, workers at the DHS East Multnomah Branch have worked to make the Holidays bright by hosting a special Christmas party for foster kids. The event has grown over the years; this party hosted more than 200 children with their siblings, parents, and foster parents, from Mid- and East Multnomah County.

Event brings families together
“This time of year, parents of children in foster care often want to be with their kids,” Boehme told us, as the event got underway.

“This party gives kids the opportunity to experience a fun, no-stress event with their visiting parents or foster parents,” Boehme noted. “It’s a way that East Branch can give back to the kids that we serve, and perhaps allow the parents to have some fun time with their kids while they’re in foster care.”

DHS volunteers turn the normally utilitarian-looking visiting rooms at their offices on SE 122nd Avenue into a Holiday wonderland. Cheerfully decorated visiting rooms offer games, crafts, face painting, and cookie-decorating.

Mary Boehme, with the DHS East Branch, gets help from Jeff Dayton and Bill Dayton, owners of Pizza Baron, who present Santa Claus his own Christmas pizza. “It’s like leaving cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, but hot and cheesier,” Bill said.

Labor and supplies donated
The children and families who attend this party are often without financial resources,” pointed out Boehme’s coworker, Stacey Mahler. “This party allows them to enjoy a rare Holiday event as a family. This year, as families are struggling more than ever before, it seems really important to do this.”

The party is organized by staff volunteers who plan, manage, acquire in-kind and monetary donations, decorate, and volunteer in the party rooms. “We hold fundraising events throughout the year to help pay for supplies and food,” Mahler added.

We ran into Jeff and Bill Dayton, owners of Pizza Baron just up the street at SE 122nd Avenue at SE Division Street, as they were bringing in stacks of hot, bubbling pizza. “Our customers come from the outer East Portland community,” Bill Dayton told us, “we do our best support good causes here, as we have for the past 30 years.”

Boehme said their organization appreciates local companies, such as Pizza Baron. “The kids love their pizza. And, Bill and Jeff have been supportive of DHS East branch, helping us and our organization, and our kids, for years in so many ways.”

Weather gives ’em a break
Many Holiday events were cancelled this season due to poor weather conditions, but good fortune – and the sun – shone on the DHS volunteers, as the party got underway on December 16.

We saw many small, smiling faces as the youngsters “fished” for gifts, got their faces painted, spent a few moments with Santa Claus – and gobbled down slices of pizza.

Caricature artists Steve Dorris and Sam Arneson draw whimsical portraits of the visiting kids.

Boehme and Mahler asked us to acknowledge other organizations who contributed to the event: The Duck Store, Oaks Amusement Park, Portland Children’s Museum, Columbia Sportswear, Higgins Restaurant, Learning Palace, Music Millennium, Old Spaghetti Factory, OMSI, Maletis Beverage, NW Priority Credit Union, On Point Community Credit Union, Steamfitter Union Local 290, and Met-Tek Inc.

“We thank them so much; this wonderful day wouldn’t be possible without their support,” Boehme said.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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