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Mercury News article: Brighten the holidays for a foster child

Mercury News article: Brighten the holidays for a foster child

Fisher: Brighten the holidays for a foster child
By Patty Fisher
Mercury News Columnist
Posted: 11/29/2010 12:00:00 AM PST

My daughter was appraising the purple sweater I had picked out.

"Mom, sorry, but that one's really ugly," she said, rolling her eyes. "Now, this one is really cute."

She was holding up a long purple and black sweater that was, indeed, really cute. We were on an important holiday shopping spree, buying gifts for someone we will never meet: a teenage girl in foster care who, without us, would not be getting any gifts this Christmas.

We knew only her clothing sizes, her favorite colors (pink and purple) and her ambition, which is to be a lawyer. Armed with that information, we hit the mall.

The Adopt-a-Family program is run by the Bill Wilson Center in conjunction with the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency. Foster parents don't get extra money for holiday presents, so donors step up and spend $100 to $200 per child to ensure that there are presents under the tree.

"Everything about being in foster care makes kids feel different," said Michelle Covert of the Bill Wilson Center. "They are abused, neglected, bounced from one place to another."

It's nice to feel normal

Opening gifts on Christmas makes foster children feel wonderfully normal.

"Their friends on the basketball team, the kids in their science class and at the after-school center, all of them are going to be talking about the gifts they got for Christmas. You could argue that people shouldn't focus on that, but that's what people do."

This year, the list of kids needing help through Adopt-a-Family contained nearly 1,000 names. Unfortunately, fewer people have stepped up to help, and with the Dec. 8 deadline looming, 482 children are still waiting for donors.

When I heard that, I couldn't simply write about this program and urge you to step up. I had to step up myself. I'm so glad I did. Shopping is not my favorite pastime, but this was fun. I kept thinking about that young girl, dealing with some heavy issues that I won't go into here, and how much it would mean to her to unwrap that cute sweater, along with black leggings and the other gifts on her list. I wanted to make her Christmas special.

Fortunately, I had Ruthie, my 20-year-old daughter and accomplished shopper, to help make the decisions.

iPods and pajamas

Ashley Kanigher is a veteran Adopt-a-Family shopper.

"A lot of kids want the same things other kids want, like PlayStations, Wiis, iPods," she said. "But a lot of them ask for the basics, like socks, underwear, pajamas -- things that we take for granted."

Kanigher works in the Palo Alto office of Cooley LLP, a San Francisco-based law firm. Cooley employees have been adopting families for more than two decades.

"It's very touching because you are learning about these kids and the hardships they face throughout the year, their goals and dreams, what they want to be when they grow up," she said. "Once you experience the feeling of knowing that these kids are going to wake up on Christmas and have gifts they wouldn't otherwise have, you just want to keep doing it."

I know what she means. I'm already looking forward to next year's shopping spree.

Contact Patty Fisher at or 408-920-5852.