A Christmas Gift Giving Program for Children in Foster Care
An entirely volunteer Christmas gift-giving program for clients in foster care, residential treatment, and group homes called Operation Good Cheer. Since 1971, over 50,000 infants, children, youth, and adults with disabilities have received Christmas presents due to generous volunteers across the state. Starting with 66 children, in 2021 we are celebrating 50 years and the program has grown to more than 7,160 of Michigan's foster care children will have a very memorable Christmas.
Each year more than 5,000 children residing in out-of-home placement facilities are in danger of not being able to experience memorable holiday events. The children who take part in Operation Good Cheer are some of the most vulnerable youth in Michigan; most have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, and abandonment, because of families either unwilling, or unable to care for them. Children coming into the care of private non-profit agencies are often at their most vulnerable, having the transition of being removed from the only family they have ever known, to being placed in a different home, with a different family, sometimes in a different school, and experiencing different lives entirely, in the matter of a few days. This dramatic shift in a child’s life can prove to ultimately be the best for them, giving them the chance to obtain help, manage goals, and recognize a better life for themselves and strive for it. But at this young age, many find this change to be sudden and unexpected, and even at times unwelcomed. Operation Good Cheer gives Michigan’s children in care hope and faith in their new placement. The holidays give some children the first Christmas they have had, and to others it brings a sense of well-being with its familiarity. Operation Good Cheer builds the self-esteem, and confidence of its participants, by allowing children in care to “`be like other kids,” sometimes for the first time in their lives. Giving a child who has gone through the trauma that preceded their placement, but then also the disturbance from being removed from the only home they have known, the knowledge that “people really do care” about them creates a sense of belonging. This assists in inspiring them to achieve greater things, and make decisions that will further enhance and enrich their lives.
Operation Good Cheer provides for children under the care of more than 80 social service agencies. Each foster child with his/her caseworkers’ assistance creates a unique “Wish List.” This “Wish List” includes the youth’s:
Agencies forward the Wish Lists to Child and Family Services of Michigan, Inc., State Office, where they are coded with numbers and letters for confidentiality purposes. A record is maintained of all the children’s Wish Lists that are received, after which the Wish Lists are distributed to the donors. Donors purchase, wrap, and deliver gifts to a predetermined drop off location. Volunteer drivers and their semi-trucks are available to pick-up and deliver the gifts to Oakland County International Airport. Once at the airport; volunteers unload and sort each gift according to the coded information. During the “Spirit of Good Cheer” flight, gifts are loaded onto airplanes and delivered to an airport local to each agency. This is a tremendous event for the agencies, which come to the airports with snacks, beverages, banners or cards to greet the volunteer pilots. The agencies distribute the gifts to each foster home for opening on Christmas Day. The children who take part in Operation Good Cheer create letters, cards, and drawings in thanks to the many generous donors who make Operation Good Cheer a success; our agency forwards these gestures of thanks to the appropriate donor after the gifts have been delivered. Our agency also composes and distributes quarterly newsletters, recognition certificates, and personalized tributes for our donors. Every person involved in Operation Good Cheer works together to obtain the program objectives.
Operation Good Cheer’s goal is to give each child in foster care an enjoyable holiday. The increasing need of agencies to provide for the children they serve has brought additional children to Operation Good Cheer annually. Each year Child and Family Services of Michigan, Inc., has to obtain additional donors, pilots, and volunteers to provide service to the rising number of children. Donors and volunteers are critical to the success of Operation Good Cheer. We ensure that all children enrolled in Operation Good Cheer are placed with a donor and that a minimum of three gifts are purchased for each child.