Covid restrictions prevent annual Christmas party for foster children in Malheur County but local residents can still help

Area residents can help out more than 250 local foster children receive a Christmas gift this year by participating in a wish list program sponsored by the Oregon Department of Human Services and the Malheur County Foster and Adoptive Parents Association. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – At Christmastime in recent years, the Ontario Elks Lodge has opened its doors and invited local foster children and parents to a holiday party and dinner complete with a visit from Santa and plenty of presents.

Covid restrictions halted that tradition this year but area residents can still help deliver a little Christmas joy to the more than 200 foster kids in Malheur County.

The Oregon Department of Human Services, in conjunction with the Malheur County Foster and Adoptive Parents Association, is offering Christmas wish lists to residents interested in buying gifts for foster children.

The lists have six spaces for gifts ­costing under $50. Interested individuals can pick up a list at the Department of Human Services at 186 East Lane, in Ontario, or call the department to participate.

 “They will be matched up with a donor. Gifts come back to us and we give them to the foster parents to give to the kiddos,” said Rebecca Garrison, foster care certification supervisor for the Department of Human Services in Ontario.

The wish lists include information on the child’s age and gender along with the spaces to fill in for the gifts. The wish list program is not asking for gift cards, iPods, cell phones and video games, but donors can give clothing and information about sizes is noted.

Garrison said if area residents want to donate money instead of a wish list they should make the check out to ODHS Donated Funds and either bring it to the office in Ontario or mail it.

The deadline to provide gifts for the wish lists is Dec. 21, said Garrison.

“But we would like them the sooner the better,” said Garrison.

Jessica Norton, the president of the Malheur County Foster and Adoptive Parents Association, said the pandemic impacts have hindered donations to the organization.

She said usually by this time the association has “around $5,000 donations in the bank account.”

“This year we have about $1,300. We are way down,” said Norton.

She said there are still many wish lists with no sponsors.

“Last we heard, we are about 30 wish lists shy of sponsors,” said Norton.

For more information, contact Garrison at 541-889-9194, extension 335, or Valeria Ramirez at [email protected].

 News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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