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Finding Joy in a Busy Holiday Season

Guest post from Stacy Daniels, Technical Support Specialist Eckerd Clearwater Support Center

Foster Angels
Jason Streit and Stacy Daniels volunteering with Foster Angels of Hillsborough

“Could you help with this?” That’s a question I have heard a lot since joining Eckerd Kids’ Clearwater Support Center in October.  There’s not a day that goes by when, as technical support staff, we are asked to troubleshoot computers, set up laptops or smartphones, secure Wi-Fi connections, or even assist in larger projects like the launch of our new Eckerd.org website. It takes a lot of work to keep an organization as large and diverse as Eckerd up-to-date with its technology.

However, this time the question wasn’t in reference to a computer or connectivity problem. Eckerd was asking staff if they could find time during the busy holiday season to volunteer with Foster Angles, a nonprofit organization that helps ensure that all kids get presents on Christmas.

Foster Angels of Hillsborough collects gifts for children living with foster families or have been identified by the program as in-need. Many of the children also receive services from Eckerd Community Alternatives.  The organization serves more than 1,200 children in foster care in Hillsborough County, and without Foster Angles many of these children would have no presents on Christmas Day.

Foster Angels was founded by the MacNeel family in 1988 after they had a similar experience with their own foster children.  Two days before Christmas a sibling group of five children were placed in the MacNeel home. The parents went out to buy them gifts, but found the stores were almost empty and what was left was not worth buying. The family divided gifts they planned for their other children with the new additions, so everyone had at least a couple of presents to open Christmas Day. The MacNeels then decided that no foster family should experience that feeling, and they founded Foster Angels.

Jason, my boyfriend, and I volunteered with Foster Angels on the last Saturday before Christmas. It was hectic! Volunteers rushed to organize gifts already planned out for each family. Meanwhile, foster parents arrived and we helped fit presents into their cars. Everyone was moving at a rapid pace. However, though all that chaos was a great sense of joy. It came out of knowing that we were helping to bring happiness to children this winter.

I think back to Eckerd Kids’ founders Ruth and Jack Eckerd. They spent much of their time and wealth helping at-risk children in Clearwater and the greater Tampa Bay area. When asked why they founded their organization and what kept them running, Jack simply replied “It’s the kids.” This holiday season, with so much of the holidays spent running place to place, it’s important to remember the important things about this time of year: family, friends, and bringing joy to children.