The trucks started arriving at the Pierce County Juvenile Court at Remann Hall on Dec. 1.
And they haven’t stopped.
“Yesterday I think we had three or four or five deliveries,” said Janice Bridges, the dependency unit supervisor for the Juvenile Court, from a room stacked high with boxes.
“Yesterday I felt like I needed a massage,” she continued. “I’m not used to lifting boxes and ripping boxes. My hands are all torn up and dried out from working with paper and box cutters.
“It’s great. It’s a fun change of pace.”
Typically, Bridges’ days don’t involve this kind of labor or unloading cargo vans. She works with Pierce County’s court-appointed special advocates program, or CASA, which oversees volunteers who advocate on behalf of roughly 1,500 foster care children in Pierce County at any one time.
The trucks have come jam-packed with deliveries addressed to the program. In a back room at the juvenile court is a glimpse at what’s been inside: Christmas gifts — a whole lot of them.
Everyone has just been overwhelmed by the sheer volume, the quality of the toys and the generosity of strangers.
Janice Bridges, the dependency unit supervisor for Pierce County Juvenile Court
“Everyone has just been overwhelmed by the sheer volume, the quality of the toys and the generosity of strangers,” Bridges said from behind a desk with at least two drawers filled with Kindle Fires.
By the time the dust settles, Bridges said, as many as 5,000 gifts could arrive.
“We have Radio Flyer tricycles for little kids, and those are really top of the line. We have countless ‘Frozen’ dolls, of course. Play-Doh sets, tons of Barbies,” she said. “Lots of really good games. Tons of Hot Wheels and Star Wars-themed toys. Really popular things.”
All of it, as Bridges pointed out, comes from the generosity of strangers. But more specifically, it’s the result of a collaboration between the national CASA program, the Toy Industry Foundation and Amazon that’s allowed that generosity to manifest, with Pierce County’s foster children on the receiving end.
In October, Bridges said, Pierce County’s CASA program was asked if it wanted to be one of five CASA programs across the country to be included in an effort to distribute gifts to kids in foster care. The answer was “yes.” As Bridges said, “You don’t say no to free things for kids.”
Since that time, Pierce County CASA has been featured on Amazon on four days — with online shoppers given the option to include a gift for a foster child in their purchase.
The outpouring, Bridges said, has exceeded her wildest expectations.
“I think at some point they said it could be up to 5,000 (gifts), but we thought maybe they meant 500, because 5,000 is insane,” Bridges said.
Insane is certainly one way to describe the scene — and the buzz — inside the room in the Pierce County Juvenile Court, where the gifts are being collected and distributed. Since the beginning of the month, a host of staff and volunteers have taken on the role of elves, getting down to the hard work of making sure the gifts find proper homes.
That includes the Juvenile Court’s guardian ad litems, like Rebecca Via, who described the scene as evocative of “Santa’s workshop,” plus social workers, foster parents, biological parents and even kids in the court’s diversion program — who’ve helped with the wrapping.
“We reunited a mom and her son last week, and all she’s been focused on is (finding) housing to get her son back. There was no room for Christmas in her life,” Via said of one recent experience distributing the gifts.
“The mom started crying and I started crying. It was just a beautiful thing to be able to selflessly give to someone who truly needs it.
“This allows every child to have the true meaning of Christmas.”
The mom started crying, and I started crying. It was just a beautiful thing to be able to selflessly give to someone who truly needs it. ...This allows every child to have the true meaning of Christmas.
Rebecca Via, a guardian ad litem with Pierce County Juvenile Court
Before I leave, I asked Bridges how this experience has affected her personally.
“It makes me really look forward to coming to work,” Bridges said. “Because you come in here, and there’s more stuff, and you just think, ‘You know, people really are good.’
“It restores my faith.”
Then I asked what kind of difference the gifts can make to one of Pierce County’s foster kids this Christmas season.
In response, she showed me an email from a CASA volunteer.
“I have a touching story about delivering the gifts to one of my foster kids,” it read. “He is 15 and lives in a group home. I delivered the gifts because he literally does not have anyone else to do that for him. I grabbed one of the drones and a basketball. He loved the basketball, but when he opened the drone he was literally speechless and almost cried. Pretty hard to impress a teenage boy, as we all know.
“The generosity of strangers made Christmas special for one kid.”
Make that many kids this year in Pierce County.
Wednesday was the final day Pierce County’s CASA program featured on Amazon. Bridges says Pierce County CASA still needs gifts for kids 0 to 3 years of age, as there have been fewer donations for that age group and it makes up more than a third of Pierce County’s foster care population.