Foster program calls Christmas drive a ‘wild success’

Katharine McLeod , Embrace foster parent recruitment coordinator, organizes board games donated by the local community in her office in Winchester. Lewis Millholland / Daily

WINCHESTER – Area foster care program Embrace’s annual Christmas donation drive was a “wild success,” said Katharine McLeod, foster parent recruitment coordinator.

She estimated over 100 board games were donated, due in no small part to the drive’s partner organizations: The Shenandoah Chamber of Commerce and the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“The chambers really showed up … they both showed up to an incredible degree,” McLeod said. “There’s a great picture of me at the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce Christmas party with board games in each arm, piled up to my face.”

Last year, Embrace wasn’t large enough to operate a full Christmas drive, and instead partnered with the Hideaway Café in Winchester to put on an “angel tree” donation event, in which the recipient children asked for specific gifts and Embrace handed out the requests to donors.

The most popular board games Embrace received this year were Chutes and Ladders, Sorry! and Candy Land.

“I think when people think of kids, they kind of think of little kids,” McLeod said. “Candy Land especially. Candy Land is definitely a first game. I think even if you’re not much of a game-player, at some point in your life you’ve probably played Candy Land.”

The average age of a foster child in McLeod’s jurisdiction is 11. Still, there’s no doubt in her mind that all of the donations will find homes — whether that’s through finding a local family, or sharing the donations with other partner organizations in need of child-friendly board games.

In addition to the two chambers, Embrace also partnered with the Warren County Community Center and Selah Theater to organize this year’s drive. Each organization set up collection areas for donors to drop off gifts.

The program’s Winchester office serves Frederick, Warren, Clarke and Shenandoah counties, or anywhere within an hour of the office at 817 Cedar Creek Grade.

Embrace accepts donations throughout the year, but also has regular events in the fall for back-to-school donations and in May, which is National Foster Care Month. During May, Embrace focuses on getting donations in the form of spare luggage.

“Our CEO is very affected by the idea of kids taking their belongings around in trash bags, and he really doesn’t want that to be the case for any of our kids,” McLeod said. “No matter how long you’re in care with us, you’re at least going to leave with something of your own to put your stuff in that’s not a garbage bag.”

Besides donating goods, some donors have given their time and professional skills. At various Embrace offices, McLeod said one hairdresser gave free haircuts to foster children, and at another a professional photographer volunteered his services to take Christmas photos for foster families.

“I always tell people, ‘I can put you to work,'” McLeod said. “I want to be a good steward of your interest in us, and I will find something for you to do.”

McLeod was pleased with the success of this year’s drive. “It looks like a toy store in here,” she said, referring to her office.

While the donations and generosity are good for the foster kids and families, it’s also good for McLeod’s motivation throughout the year. When the holiday season ends and the flood of donations slows to a trickle, she said she believes the memory of this wave of donations will keep her going.

“It’s nice to be bolstered by the memory of this and seeing how generous our community can be, and experiencing this success,” McLead said. “In those leaner times, you know, when things aren’t going my way, I can kind of think, ‘Well, these people really do care. Look at all of the generosity that they showed us at Christmas.'”

McLeod asks anyone interested in becoming a foster parent or learning more about the program to contact her at Katharine.McLeod@embraceTFC.com or (540) 376-3968.