EDISON, NJ - Last Tuesday, a visitor at the Pines Manor in Edison, may have thought they wandered into Santa’s workshop as one room spilled over with toys, games, bikes and stuffed animals.  Looking more closely, you would realize that the elves were members of the New Jersey Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) and Santa Claus were members of the NJ State Police Benevolent Association (PBA) from 300 communities throughout the state.

Each year, for the past 12 years, both organizations come together in Edison to gather toys for NJ's foster children. Through FAFS’s Holiday Celebration for Every Child program the toys are distributed at their Holiday Parties for children living in foster homes throughout New Jersey. 

According to Lynn Patmalnee, FAFS’s Director of Communication and Development, “These events offer festive food and fun activities. For some of our kids, it's also a chance for them to reunite with siblings who are living in separate foster homes - the best gift of all.”

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This collaboration between FAFS and the NJ State PBA began in 2003 during  a fundraising dinner honoring then Govenor McGreevey for his support of children in foster care. FAFS’s CEO, Mary Jane Awrachow was in attendance, as was then PBA President Anthony Wieners. After learning about the program, Wieners said that the NJ State PBA would adopt FAFS. Without hesitation, PBA member, Don Florek, coordinated the toy drive throughout local NJ police stations.

After Florek’s retirement, his successor, Patrick Colligan, with the help of Henry Werner, continued the PBA's commitment to the state's most vulnerable children.  Each December, PBA members are called upon to participate in the toy drive during their state monthly meeting at the Pines Manor.

PBA members carry in hundreds of toys, bikes, blankets, and games and each toy was gladly received by the many FAFS volunteers who separated the toys according to age and gender.

“The number of children fluctuates due to the nature of foster care. However, there are several thousand children living in foster homes in New Jersey and all are invited to our parties,” said Patmalnee.

Patmalnee continued, “Our kids especially, and our parents as well, are extremely grateful for the toys. And the kids are, of course, very excited to receive them. Some of our children have never received a new gift or even celebrated the holidays before, so our donor’s generosity means so much to them, as you could imagine.”

“Children in foster care are not there because they did something wrong. They are there because, for any number of reasons, their parent(s) are unwilling or unable to care for them. This is often misunderstood by the public, and FAFS works hard to dispel this foster care myth. Children and youth in foster care, adopted from foster care and in kinship care need support and to feel like they matter, and that, no matter how difficult their past may have been, that their future can be brighter.”

“All of FAFS' programs are centered around fulfilling these needs. We believe that children in foster care are the community's children, with the same hopes and dreams as all children.”

Additionally, FAFS offers several donor supported programs that directly impact the lives of children in foster care by encouraging self-esteem and promoting feelings of belonging. These include Dreamers and Believers, which offers children and youth in, or adopted from, foster care or living in kinship care, the opportunity to try out a dream; Fostering Wishes for Children, which provides $75 annually to children in foster care for the "little extras" such as class field trips, yearbooks, sports registrations and more; Camp Scholarships, which allow kids in foster care to experience a week of overnight camp; and the Backpack Program, which provides backpacks filled with school supplies and comfort items like small stuffed animals and books to children living in foster homes.

FAFS also offers Private Scholarships and Opportunity Grants to foster youth to help them pursue a post-secondary education or live independently.

In addition to offering these donor supported programs, FAFS is contracted by the State of NJ to provide services to foster, adoptive and kinship parents, and our organization administers the New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholars Program.

What began as a chance meeting and conversation is now an lasting relationship between the NJ State PBA and the Foster and Adoptive and according to both organizations, has grown continually each year.

Information on all FAFS' donor supported programs is available at www.fafsonline.org or contact Lynn Patmalnee, Director of Communication and Development, at 609.520.1500 x324 or via email at lpatmalnee@fafsonline.org.