The Salem Rotary Club has hosted a holiday celebration for foster children and their families on the North Shore for over 20 years. In partnership with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), this celebration is traditionally hosted at Salem High School and is a highlight of the year for both the children and Rotarians, with pizza, games, crafts, bounce houses, story time, and gifts from Santa. This event is one of two the Salem Club runs each year that allows foster children the opportunity to spend time with their biological siblings, who are often not able to be housed in the same foster home.
While we could not host our traditional party this year due to COVID-19, we were still able to bring a little cheer to these children and their families with our Santa’s Drive Through event. Held at the beautiful Kernwood Country Club in Salem, families were greeted with a delicious holiday treat from the Hawthorne Hotel and directed up the beautiful path through the stone gate toward the property’s carport. On the way, families stopped to receive books for children of all ages and original artwork that the children will be able to give their parents as a holiday gift. The grand finale was a meeting Santa and his elf at the carport where all children in the family received a present. Salem Rotarian volunteers, donned in Rotary masks, were stationed throughout the route and working diligently behind the scenes to wrap over 100 gifts and set the stage for a seamless event.
This year, Santa had a special guest to assist him with greeting the children. Darius, an incredible 8-year old boy who was adopted from foster care, raised money to buy each foster child a “Trouble the Dog.” “Trouble” is a stuffed animal that children can tell their troubles to. In Darius’ words, “I was very scared going to another unknown home. My social worker gave me Trouble, which gave me comfort to hug something of my very own and hope for better days. Trouble still gives me such comfort that my goal is to be able to give kids like me in foster care a Trouble dog so they will have something magical of their very own to comfort them when they may be worried about the next unknown.”
The children are the heart of this event, and seeing Darius pay it forward made it even more special this year. Both the holiday event and DCF are close to many Rotarians hearts. Jeff Holloran (aka Santa), in particular, and his elf, Kim Dunn, have shown a commitment to our DCF projects that always goes above and beyond. Jeff stepped up again this year to cover the cost of the gifts, and the Club matched his generosity to bring these children a little extra cheer in these challenging times.
None of this joy would be possible without the dedication and leadership of Carla King from DCF. Carla puts her entire heart and soul into her work, and it shines through at this event every year. She thinks of absolutely every detail and plans for the unexpected. Her partnership with our Club spans almost as many years as this event, and those who have had the pleasure of working with her know the amount of time and effort she puts in to bring a smile to each child’s face over the holiday season.
DCF is charged with protecting children from abuse and neglect and strengthening families. DCF works to protect over 100,000 youth each year, while strengthening families across the state. The DCF Foster Care Program provides safe homes and compassionate foster parents for children who are removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, or unsafe or dangerous conditions. This event supports roughly 100 children throughout the North Shore region.