From helping a working mother pay for funeral expenses to providing a disabled teen with an iPad to help his education, the Christmas season will be a little brighter thanks to Department employees and fellow Floridians who joined to make wishes come true for families around the state this month.
In just a few weeks, the Department of Children and Families “Operation Santa Cause” campaign successfully matched community support with more than two dozen specific needs around the state.
“We knew that we could find individuals and businesses in each community to reach out and help a family in need this holiday season,” said DCF Secretary David Wilkins. “We appreciate the generosity of so many Floridians who gave what they could to help someone else.”
One example of a community supporting someone in need is the story of Felecia Peete, who adopted a sibling group of four several years ago. Three of the four children were diagnosed with an inherited disorder that is almost always fatal within 10 years of symptoms. One of the children died at the age of 13 and in October, the 8-year-old passed away.
Ms. Peete, who lives in the Orlando area, reduced her income by working from home to continue to care for the two surviving children. Her holiday wish was to pay for an outstanding balance of $1,700 in funeral expenses and $500 to cover the cost of the family’s holiday gifts on layaway. Thanks to the generosity of many Floridians who wished to remain anonymous, all of her wishes have been fulfilled. She no longer has to worry about providing a Christmas for her children or the heavy burden of the unpaid funeral expense.
The mission to fulfill all 12 wishes started out strong with support from businesses and individuals across the state.
“The story was so reflective of our great state,” Secretary Wilkins said. “One of our employees, a veteran, personally wrote a check. Another of our business partners, Walmart, gave a large donation to help us fulfill many of the wishes.”
Walmart provided $25,000, which helped support 19 families, including $5,000 to a single mother raising four children in the Orlando area who needs child care while she works and $4,000 to a single working mother in Miami who adopted her nephew and another foster child and needed money for rent and holiday gifts for her sons. This generous contribution also provided clothing, household goods for former foster children, beds, Christmas presents and toys for a family with ten kids.
“The Walmart Foundation is pleased to partner with DCF to provide holiday presents and other support to Florida’s families in need,” said Cindi Marsiglio, Director of Public Affairs for Walmart.
Another wish from the Jacksonville area was for a bright 18-year-old named James who struggles with muscular dystrophy and hearing loss. His mother is a single working parent doing her best to help her son.
James’ teacher discovered that an iPad would help him learn to communicate, but his mother could not afford one. James’ nurse, who works with Children’s Medical Services, told us his story. An attorney in Jacksonville stepped up to pay for the cost of an iPad for James.
DCF’s mission is to help those most in need. That job is daunting. We investigated 188,000 child abuse cases and helped more than 62,000 children in child welfare last year. More than 4.8 million people receive public assistance, more than 52,000 Floridians were served in our domestic violence shelters, and more than 54,300 people are reported homeless.
However, the most exciting part of being in the business of helping others is when we are allowed the opportunity to witness communities helping their neighbors. Our Partners for Promise initiative, which kicked off one year ago, now has more than 1,550 local partner organizations signed up to provide real change in the lives of others.
Here are some other examples of wishes fulfilled by “Operation Santa Cause”:
· In Tallahassee, a single mother who is homeless and struggling with a mental illness needed to find a home for herself and her 11-year-old child. Her oldest son is currently serving in the Army. More than $3,200 was donated to help this family by many local donors, including a DCF employee who retired from the Army. The Tallahassee chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) also collected donations to help the family.
· In Escambia County, the Carver Community Center provides a safe place for children to go after school and during the summer, including tutoring services. The center needs new computers and internet service along with special software to help the kids learn. A man in St. Petersburg has volunteered to cover the internet service for one year, and the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners is donating 20 refurbished computers for the children.
· In Tampa, a single parent refugee needed to move from a filthy, crime-ridden apartment complex to a rented house in a nice neighborhood. Through the combined generous donations from Tallahassee business leaders and members of the Tampa Bay community, $2,500 was raised to help this family move after the holidays.
· Two sisters in Broward, ages 16 and 13, are being raised by their grandmother and needed furniture and other items. Several local and national businesses, including Walmart, local decorating firm Tailored Pillow, and the Law Offices of Jacob Jackson are providing furniture, decorating and more for the girls.
· In Ocala, an elderly, disabled woman lives in a home with a roof that leaks severely, and the home has an active mold problem. Through the kindness and generosity of Sack Roofing, Inc., All American Cleaning and Restoration Specialist, Air Spec, and United Rentals, her home will be restored to a livable condition.