FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Place of Forsyth took the role of one of Santa’s helpers this year at its third annual Holiday House.
More than 2,000 children and their families benefited from the event Dec. 14-16 at Freedom Tabernacle Church. Throughout the year, thousands of toys are donated to The Place of Forsyth, which assists families with emergency basic needs in difficult times.
Parents were able to shop through rooms of donated goodies including bikes, teddy bears and clothing.
Naomi Byrne, youth coordinator at The Place, was in charge of the Holiday House the past two years.
“Everything is donated from the community,” she said. “You name it and everyone gathers around and sends in toys. The people are incredible in Forsyth County. They want to help these kids.”
More than 700 volunteers shop alongside the caretakers and help them choose the perfect gift for their child.
In addition to the gifts, Byrne said they provide gift wrapping, stocking stuffers and allow teachers to shop for school supplies that were left over from the beginning of the semester. Even more, some donated artificial trees were up for grabs at the event.
The chosen participants come from suggestions from social workers and school counselors, among other places. They qualify based on their income levels or on other factors, such as receiving food stamps or free and reduced lunch.
“For a lot of these parents, if we didn’t do it, they wouldn’t have anything for their kids and we know that,” Byrne said. “We will make this happen every year as long as we can because this is important to The Place and these families.”
The past two years, the Holiday House has provided Christmas for more than 2,100 children each year.
“It’s the true meaning of Christmas,” Byrne said. “It brings me such joy to be able to provide Christmas for these children and to know they’re getting what every other child is getting.”
The Place Executive Director Joni Smith said in previous years, they had a gift tree with requests written on tags.
“That wasn’t as dignified for the parents,” Smith said. “They want to provide Christmas for their children. If I were to pick a Barbie, I may pick ‘soccer Barbie’ when they wanted ‘doctor Barbie.’ Those are the little nuances that are important to kids.”
In the past, Smith said she used to pick the name off the tree, buy a gift and then deliver it to the family. The children would be excited, she said, but the parents never seemed happy.
“My well-meaning intentions were replacing their role in their family,” Smith said. “Kids just see they’re special enough to get a lot of gifts in the morning. But when they’re old enough to realize their parents do this, it’ll change that dynamic.”
Smith said being able to walk alongside the parents as they choose items lets them celebrate with the caretakers rather than handing them a bag from a stranger.
“They’re in a bad place that they can’t afford a lot like most of us can,” Smith said. “They shouldn’t be stressed at Christmas. They should be celebrating and joyous. It’s a burden for them because they want their kids to be normal. When their children go back to school in January, they can now chime in they had a wonderful Christmas.”
To learn more about The Place, visit theplaceofforsyth.org.