Guest Blog By Bunchy Gertner
Every year for the last 16 years, as the South Florida summer heat scorches my soul, I turn my attention to the annual task of preparing my “North Pole.” I store, wrap and distribute thousands of toys destined for all children who continue to live in the foster care system in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Each year, beginning in August, this Toy Drive becomes top banana for me! I start calling friends, family, and donors to raise money and collect presents for the thousands of foster children in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Working with the staff and volunteers at Our Kids, the community-based care lead agency that provides foster, adoptive and related services to children in Miami and the Florida Keys, we’re able to collect, wrap and deliver thousands of presents to children throughout the holiday season!
I sometimes feel that all 3,600 foster children are mine (thank God I didn’t give birth to all of them!). I worry that they won’t receive a gift for the holidays and this thought propels me to try harder and make sure each and every child has a gift to open at holiday time.
It takes months to put together the team that greases the wheel and allows the project to take on a life of its own. Working with our sponsors, the team at Our Kids and numerous volunteers, we make sure every foster child in Miami-Dade and the Keys receives a quality, age appropriate gift in time for the holidays.
This year, there are 135 foster children who will be aging-out of foster care and who will embark on their newest and most profound challenge: learning to live on their own for the first time in their lives. The road to independence has many potholes and we are trying to pave the way. We created the Good Housekeeping gift of much needed household items that includes a comforter and sheets, 2 pillows, hand and bath towels, service for eight to include dishes, flatware and glassware. Pots and pans were added last year and this year, a microwave oven.
Once we collect the gifts, we get to work wrapping! It takes serious manpower and even more tape to wrap more than 12,000 presents!
Of course none of this would be possible without the generous contributions of friends and sponsors. We have more than 50 supporters and sponsors who make valuable financial contributions and/or donate gifts to insure that all children in the system have something to open for the holidays! Some of these sponsors include Florida Power & Light, the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, U.S. District Court, The Continental Group and the Village of Gulfstream Park.
As I review my list of donors and sponsors, I realize that I have become a beggar! I get down on my hands and knee and plead for contributions from everyone I meet. I write letters, I make phone calls and ask people if they will help or if they know others who might be moved to help. I remind everyone that for some of these children, their gift from our North Pole might be the only present they will receive.
Despite 16 years of collecting toys and gifts, I remain overwhelmed with a joyful feeling, knowing that no child is left behind or forgotten. After months of collecting, stacking, sorting, wrapping, and tagging thousands of gifts that will be delivered to the foster youth, when I finally lay my head down to rest, I know that I have fulfilled my mission: no child in South Florida will go without a present this year! And that, dear friends, is the true joy of giving!
For more information and to get involved, please contact Bunchy Gertner at: email@example.com.