How The Salvation Army brings the holidays to those in emergency foster care
Salvation Army Spokane (Washington) Corps helps to create holiday cheer for those in their care.
For many people, the holidays mark the best time of the year. It’s a time typically spent with family and loved ones, but how might children and young adults in emergency foster care homes experience the holidays?
At The Salvation Army emergency foster care homes (Sally’s House and Evangeline’s House) in Spokane, Washington, administrators, staff and volunteers work to ensure those in their care experience joy and love throughout the holiday season.
“We really try to set up both houses as a home, so the kids can see what a positive home life is like,” said Spokane Citadel Corps Officer Major Ken Perine.
Many who find themselves in emergency foster care “are coming from households where they have not been the focus,” he added. However, once on-site, he assured, “They do become the focus. Their welfare, their safety, their joy, their education…It’s all about them.”
Sally’s House (serving children ages 2-12) and Evangeline’s House, (serving teens and emerging young adults ages 13-20), work to provide short-term housing to those removed from unsafe or chaotic environments.
“The circumstances that brought them to us aren’t amazing,” said Perine. Often those in their care are removed from their environments via law enforcement or Child Protective Services, “but while they’re with us, they get to see an example of what love looks like, even in a foster care program,” he added.
“We say to the kids, we just want them to be a child. They don’t need to worry about where their next meal is coming from,” said Sally’s House Manager Beck Hoogstad. “I think it helps set up their mindset, emotionally and physically, for when they do move on from us.”
In addition to providing housing, nutritious meals, clothing and a regular schedule of activities and field trips for up to 90 days at Sally’s House and 15 to 30 days at Evangeline’s House, during that time staff and administrators work with Washington’s Department of Children and Family Services to find a relative or appropriate foster placement.
Not long after Sally’s House opened in 2002, Hoogstad said she felt called to get involved. The importance of the program’s mission to provide safety and love to children in need, she said, spoke to her and has kept her serving there for nearly 18 years. “Yes, it’s my job but it’s also so much more than that,” she said. “It spoke to me and very much drew me in…It is so important that the children are shown they are loved and have great value.”
When Hoogstad started working for the program, she said she was a single mother of two. After her third day of work, she said she came home and told her daughters how blessed they were to have one another. “Not that the girls and I had a lot,” she added, mentioning how their faith helped them through harder times.
Around the holidays, Hoogstad said it’s the “little things” that are appreciated most. Whether it be making holiday crafts and decorations or drinking hot chocolate before going out to see festive lights in town. “Sometimes it’s easy to take those things for granted,” she added.
When Perine’s adult children come to Spokane for the holidays, he said they like to spend their time together serving other people, and often find themselves at Sally’s and Evangeline’s House cooking breakfasts filled with pancakes, eggs, bacon and “lots of buttery syrup.”
While, he said “the food is a big deal,” what’s more valuable is “getting to know their names and playing with them.”
In addition to the meals, Perine said special activities are planned for the holidays. For example, on Christmas Eve he and his family will go to read “A Christmas Story” and act it out. Hoogstad said there are also opportunities for the children to meet with Santa Claus over milk and cookies. “For most of them, that’s something new,” she added.
For Evangeline’s House’s 2021 Christmas celebration, Program Manager Angela Godley said the tree was full with gifts, noting one teen said “it was the best Christmas she ever had.” By creating a “very happy” environment, Godley said staff and clients alike come to appreciate spending the holidays together at the facility.
“Even though it means they’re away from their family, we have staff who love being there,” said Hoogstad.
Thanks to donations from local churches and businesses, those in these programs during the holidays (or on their birthday) are also able to receive toys, clothing, books and other gifts. Spokane Director of Development Heide Wehr said “Volunteering and donations are always needed year-round in any capacity because there are kids coming in at different times and they often come with nothing.”
“This community is wonderful and has so much respect for The Salvation Army and the programs we provide,” said Spokane Director of Development and Communications Brian Pickering. “Even though this sounds like a cliche, it’s a team effort because we can’t do that by ourselves, and this community has year after year provided so much support and love.”
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