It’s the morning of Dec. 25 and you ever-so-subtly glance at the Christmas tree with presents adorning the base of the tree, eager to discover the contents of the wrapped boxes with somewhat distinct shapes. As your family slowly begins to rise from the land of the sleeping, you prepare their favorite caffeinated beverages to give them a much-needed wake-up boost. Finally, with your family gathered around the tree, you attack the pile underneath.
While this scene may seem like something out of a Hallmark movie, the tradition of gift-giving during the holiday season dominates in many households. However, for some foster families in South Florida, gift-giving can be a worrisome element in their schedules. In order to help alleviate the struggle of buying gifts for children during the holidays, Friends for Fosters, an organization junior Kristen Quesada and her family spearheads, hosted a toy drive from Nov. 1 to Dec. 11.
Friends for Fosters, a non-profit organization dedicated to supplying foster children with necessities, was established in 2015 and hosted their first collection in 2016. Called Duffle Bags for Darlings, this project centered around the method in which foster children carry their belongings from house to house: garbage bags. “I didn’t really believe it at first, but I researched it and found out that it’s a real thing. It really made me realize there was a need in that area,” Quesada said.
Together with her sister, Heritage alumnus Katherine Quesada (then assuming the role of Director until her graduation last year), Kristen and Friends for Fosters donated over one hundred duffle bags to 4Kids of South Florida to distribute to foster children.
Continuing their mission, Friends for Fosters hosted its third annual Precious Presents toy drive this year. Between two collection boxes at the offices of Bermello Ajamil & Partners, Inc. and SMGQ Law, both of which the Quesadas have connections with, Friends for Fosters collected over 200 toys. Add in their Facebook and GoFundMe pages, which brought in $395 spent towards 48 presents, and Friends for Fosters was able to donate 250 presents to 4Kids of South Florida, a foster organization which the Quesada’s church pastor started.
After 4Kids of South Florida receives presents, they display them in a free toy shop where foster parents can come in and choose the gifts they want for their foster children. This year, the toy shop will open Saturday, Dec. 15.
To Quesada, being able to choose the toys through the toy shop allows the foster parents to make the children feel like any other child. “Rather than donating cheap, used toys, we wanted to donate higher quality gifts for foster parents to give to their children,” Quesada said. “These kids, who are no different than us, deserve to have just as good a Christmas as anyone else. They don’t deserve anything less just because their biological parents aren’t there. If anything, I feel like that means that they should get an even better Christmas.”
Considering this particular toy drive was the first in which Quesada acted as the director, it developed many special memories for her. While Quesada enjoyed purchasing and collecting the toys, her favorite part of the drive lied in the delivery of the presents her organization worked so hard to collect. “Delivering [the toys] is definitely the best part to see because although we don’t actually get to interact with the foster children themselves for legal reasons, we were able to give the to 4Kids of South Florida and meet with the president and some of the officers of the organization. It was really special to see how happy they were to get 250 toys,” Quesada said.
As for the future of Friends for Fosters, Quesada has some things in mind as she gets used to her role as Director. Incorporating her Pre-Law knowledge, Quesada hopes to educate foster children on their rights once they exit the foster system and lose the benefits provided to them. “I’m going to try to put the legal information, including their benefits, for children who have aged out of the system on our website so they can access it,” Quesada said. “I’d also like to continue our other supply and gift card drive for those who age out of the system.”
From collecting and distributing 250 toys within the time frame of just over a month, Friends for Fosters accomplished what they set out to do with the Precious Presents toy drive: spread holiday cheer to foster children.