By Carolyn Blaney Arndt, DSC Children & Poverty Task Force Member
For the fifth year, Desert Foothills UMC in Ahwatukee, and First UMC of Mesa will be quietly carving turkeys and making home-baked pies so that some 350 children living in group foster homes will have a Thanksgiving turkey dinner the week before Thanksgiving. The location is always secret because many of the children were removed from abusive situations.
With a large group of volunteers and donors, from both churches, and non-faith organizations like the Kiwanis, planning starts early.
When I first learned about the foster situation, I was surprised by both the number of children in the system and reality in Arizona. I had attended an information group for DFUMC, without having any idea about foster care system. I assumed foster children were in more traditional placements, with families. The number of children in the system, some 19,000 at last count for Arizona, and a shortage of family-style foster homes means more and more children are in group homes or shelters. The houses and shelters have 6-15 children in bunks, and staff that works in shifts. There is no attempt at a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving or Christmas, let alone mentoring or guidance from an adult.
I was moved enough by what I learned about the current state of foster children that I trained to become a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to help children in the foster system and provide mentoring. Statistics show 25% of foster children will be homeless, and 25% of them in jail within a year of aging out. 75% of the young women were pregnant in a short time. Between 50-80% of sex trafficking victims were foster care kids. I kept thinking that we could make a difference if more people learned of their plight, reached out a hand, and got involved.
While the young children might get presents donated at Christmas, the teens are often entirely forgotten in so many ways. Events like the Thanksgiving dinner helps to raise awareness about the older youth in the foster system who tell me they feel stuck and lost.
Our congregations and volunteers have continued to do outreach with group homes by preparing Christmas turkey dinners, having Angel Gift Trees where members of the congregations can match to donate new gifts. Toiletries, clothes, and footwear for each youth are all packed into a gym bag with their name on it so that the foster child can toss the green garbage bag that usually holds all their belongings. Others have matched and mentored with older youth, hoping to help them find their way for the difficult life decisions they are usually unprepared to face when they turn 18 and are sent out on their own. They have such an abrupt cutoff, going from where they might handle a small allowance each month, to suddenly being responsible for everything. The odds are stacked against them, but they don’t have to be that way. Let’s keep talking about what our churches can do to make a difference.
To find out more about the ministry partners mentioned, click on the names below and visit their website. Contact Carolyn Arndt by phone at (480) 720-9503 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org:
- Desert Foothills UMC, 2156 E Liberty Ln, Phoenix, AZ 85048
- First United Methodist Church of Mesa, 15 East 1st Avenue, Mesa, AZ 85210
- CASA of Arizona and CASA of Nevada County
- Volunteering & community partnerships with the Department of Child Saftey in Arizona Email: Volunteer@azdcs.gov.
- Salvation Army Angel Tree Program