Dozens of children removed or turned away from their homes will open Christmas packages at one of Wichita’s oldest charities on Friday, thanks to an influx of donations that have come into its doors this month.
For the past three weeks, a near-steady stream of gifts, clothing and other necessities have flooded into the Wichita Children’s Home, ready either to be wrapped and placed under Christmas trees or stowed away for use over the next year.
All of the children who will benefit – around 2,000 annually – are escaping abuse, neglect, homelessness or other emergency situations, said Laura Kelly, the home’s director of community relations and volunteer services.
Some will stay in the homes of the agency’s foster families on Christmas Day, while others will pore over presents and eat dinner at the Children’s Home at 810 N. Holyoke.
Many will have stockings for the first time, she said. Others will experience their first abuse-free holiday.
“If this didn’t happen, we couldn’t function the way we do,” Kelly said, gesturing toward a sea of basement storage shelves where donated toys, nonperishable foods, clothing and hygiene items are kept until they’re needed.
On any given day the home has 80 to 90 children — sometimes more — living in its care, she said. At Christmastime, the home provides gifts and holiday meals for all of them.
“All of this is the community. … We do not have the dollars to stock these supplies,” Kelly said. “So people are doing a great thing here.”
The Wichita Children’s Home, established in 1888, acts as a 24-hour emergency shelter for about 1,200 children placed in police protective custody in Sedgwick County each year and has transitional housing for teens and young adults in or aging out of the state foster care system.
The agency also has a street outreach program and daytime drop-in center at 1157 N. Emporia to help homeless youths. It also provides temporary care and services to families facing crises.
Kelly said she expects about 40 displaced kids to celebrate Christmas at the children’s home’s Holyoke location Friday. But that number could increase if law enforcement comes across child abuse and neglect cases over the holiday.
“Sadly, we will have admits coming in on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” Kelly said. In an average month, the agency takes in around 60 children placed in police protective custody.
“To be taken out of your home is traumatizing,” Wichita Children’s Home CEO Debbie Kennedy said. “Many of our kids have never experienced Christmas before, so we want them to know that our community cares about them.”
That includes cheery decor, gifts and holiday parties, many of which are sponsored by businesses and groups around town, Kelly said.
On Tuesday, as many Wichitans were preparing for their own holiday gatherings, the Children’s Home bustled with activity at its Holyoke location. People hauling in sacks and boxes of donations chirped “Merry Christmas!” to the agency’s staff and volunteers.
Children’s laughter and chatter spilled out of the building’s living room into the lobby.
Down the hall, workers stuffed athletic clothing and electronics, checked against personalized Christmas wish lists, into huge gift bags.
John Brasier is among the volunteers who help out at the Children’s Home during the holidays. Over the past few weeks, he said, he has spent about six hours a day sorting through donations as the community brings them in. He started volunteering around Christmas in 2004.
On Tuesday morning, he and friends stood in a conference room, waiting for the next influx of donations. Empty plastic bins bearing labels like “Teen Boys Clothes,” “Arts and Crafts” and “Hats and Gloves” sat around them. It was 10:30 a.m.
“These have been filled five times today already and emptied” in the basement storage area, Brasier said, smiling.
“It’s so simple giving something back,” he said about volunteering. “This community has been really good to me. I’m just giving back.”
How to help
The Wichita Children’s Home relies on community donations to provide for the needs of the 2,000 children served annually by its emergency shelter, transitional housing and other programs.
Following is a list of items needed by the agency throughout the year. Donations should be new or very gently used and can be dropped off at the agency’s main campus, 810 N. Holyoke.
For more information, call 316-684-6581 or go to www.wch.org.
Towels and washcloths; kitchen utensils and bakeware; dish and flatware sets; pots and pans; toaster ovens; crockpots; glasses and plastic cups; vacuum cleaners; alarm clocks; twin- and full-size bedding; standard-size pillows; laundry hampers and baskets; laundry detergent for high-efficiency washers; floor dusters and floor mops; medium-size plastic totes; adult-size sleeping bags; journals.
Food and beverages
Individually wrapped snack foods (cheese and crackers, nuts, granola bars, instant oatmeal, beef jerky, peanut butter, fruit cups); juice boxes; fast-food and convenience store gift cards in $5 increments; baby formula.
Store gift cards; board games and card games for children and teens; MP3 players; activity passes (bowling, skating, movies, museums and theaters); sports gear (basketballs); art and crafts supplies; building blocks; toy or remote-controlled cars; puzzles for pre-schoolers up to 1,000-plus pieces; X-box and Wii video games rated E for everyone; movies on DVD (rated G, PG and PG-13).
Infants and toddlers
Bath wash; lotion; 2-in-1 shampoo; diapers; wipes; disposable pull-up-style training pants; diaper cream; socks and underwear; bottles; pacifiers; teething rings; sleepers; onesies; clothing (including in preemie sizes); infant and toddler toys.
Clothing for 4- to 12-year-olds; winter coats in child and adult sizes; pajamas; sweatpants and hooded sweatshirts for teens; athletic shorts and pants in all sizes; adult T-shirts; athletic shoes and sneakers in all sizes; women’s cotton bikini underwear in sizes 5-9; bras in all sizes, especially pull-on styles; boxers and boxer briefs for children and adults; flip-flops and shower shoes for teens; men’s and women’s jeans; socks (black and white, athletic and anklets); school- and work-appropriate shirts and pants; hair accessories for girls and teens.
Toothpaste; deodorant; shampoo; conditioner; soap; body wash; flat irons; curling irons; hair dryers; disposable razors; shaving cream; travel-size hygiene items; lip balm, ChapStick; nail care items; hairbrushes; combs, including for ethnic hair; hair grease in small containers; non-aerosol hair spray and hair gels.