Many are looking forward to turning the calendar to 2021. This year has brought us challenges and issues we could never have imagined, and there are many reasons to want to put 2020 in the rearview mirror.
At Arizona Helping Hands we have lived through the year, struggling along with everyone else. As an essential provider of basic needs to the 14,000+ children in our state’s foster care system, we never closed – but we certainly were forced to innovate and change. We modified the way we provided services to foster families and converted to a no-contact service model. This eliminated many of the personal touches we add while assisting foster families, but did allow our small, dedicated team to remain safe.
We had to minimize volunteer services in compliance with CDC guidelines, but we banded together to make sure that no request for a Birthday Dreams package went unfilled. Throughout the pandemic, our 13 employees gave their all – and then some – to bring hope to children in foster care.
Our Holiday Toy Drive has historically relied on businesses to provide toys that we distribute to thousands of boys and girls every December. This year we were fearful that with employees not in offices, and holiday parties that served as toy collection opportunities not happening, there would be children who would not have a gift to open on Christmas morning. Our Arizona community has rallied together to prove that despite the challenges we all face, people care about children who have been abused and neglected.
The response to our request for help this year has been extraordinary and unprecedented. Just a few examples include 8th grader Kennedy who says she loves kids – she babysits a lot and wanted to do something special to help children who are less fortunate. Her mom drove into the Arizona Helping Hands parking lot with an SUV packed full of gifts that Kennedy had collected by asking friends and family for support. And on December 8th, more than 200 families drove through our parking lot to drop off toys along with gift cards to support our Holiday Toy Drive. Many of those visitors had never donated to our cause, but were moved to do a little extra this year. Multiple senior citizens have made monetary donations, telling us that as they can’t have a big family gathering they wanted to make the holidays brighter for children who had faced an even more challenging year than they had themselves.
At Arizona Helping Hands we see the generosity of our neighbors and community partners every day. As I tell the stories of grandparents becoming 24/7 parents to their multiple grandchildren in an instant, or of children in foster care who have never celebrated a birthday, a chord is struck with our visitors. I see a light go on in their brain, and questions raised about how they can help.
Many donors have taken this moment of darkness and decided to add a touch of light. They move beyond the problems and challenges they have faced this year by recognizing that children in foster care have faced much bigger obstacles. The question for our society is how we respond in crisis, how we will react when there are children in need.
During 2020, despite the pandemic – or maybe because of it – our community and people like Kennedy have truly shown their heart in supporting our work and the children throughout Arizona that rely on our services. We finish the year by giving thanks to all who have helped us survive and continue our essential services, and we look forward with great anticipation to the time when children and infants will once again enter the doors of our facility to play in the lobby and enjoy a welcome with a bag of goldfish.
I thank everyone who has supported our work this year, and wish you a healthy, safe and Happy New Year, while holding dear the vision of Arizona Helping Hands that someday all children will be safe and loved. Until then we will continue in 2021 and for as long as there are children in foster care to provide them with the basic needs they deserve, and to bring them hope!
Dan Shufelt is the President & CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, the largest provider of basic needs to Arizona’s children in foster care. Learn more about the Organization at www.azhelpinghands.org and contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org