Canton school families donate more than $10,500 to give gifts to children and young adult foster care grads across southeast Michigan

CANTON — All Saints Catholic School in Canton refused to let COVID-19 stand in the way of its traditional Advent giving tree donation effort. 

Each year, the school coordinates with Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan (CCSEM) to help its programs bring Christmas gifts to those in need. This year, All Saints families donated more than $10,500 to provide presents for children and young adults in the Metro Detroit area. 

This was the second year in a row All Saints families have donated gifts to Catholic Charities’ foster care, adoption, and independent living programs. 

The foster care program works with children from birth to 18 years old who have been removed from their parents’ care because of abuse or neglect. The child welfare program works to reunite these children with their parents. If a parent is unable to be reunited with their child, they look to an alternative permanent plan of adoption. 

The independent living program works with young people from 16 to 21 years old who have been deemed by the court to “age out” of the foster care system. The agency works with young people to ensure they obtain the necessary skills to be self-sufficient. Some in this group are working to finish high school, away at college, or have their own apartments. 

All Saints received wish lists from 88 children and young adults who are part of the programs. Each child requested two or three gifts of their choice, along with essential clothing. The young adults in the independent living program requested clothing and gift cards. 

All Saints assistant principal Scott Wisniewski and teachers Amy Roose and Barb Zahari complete the delivery of Christmas gifts to the Catholic Charities office. 

With the uncertainty of COVID-19, All Saints modified the structure of its donation drive with the goal of continuing to provide gifts for everyone on the list. In past years, families "registered" to bring specific new clothing or toy items to school, but with COVID concerns, All Saints wanted to streamline the donation process. This year, the school asked families to contribute monetary gifts, which Roose and Zahari used to purchase items. This reduced the numbers of people making trips to stores and adding to lines during the pandemic.

“We were grateful to be able to continue our school partnership with CCSEM and still make a connection with our students on how important their help is in our community,” said All Saints junior high teacher Amy Roose, who with fellow All Saints junior high teacher Barb Zahari coordinates the annual donation effort for the school. 

The annual Advent giving tree is a labor of love for Roose and Zahari, who scoured ads for sales and strategically bought items with an eye on increasing the purchasing power of the donation money. They were pleased that area store managers gave them tips on upcoming sales and bargains and they took their roles as stewards seriously. 

“We became experts at using the Kohl’s Cash we earned purchasing the wish list items to buy even more gifts for people on the list,” Zahari said. 

In addition to fulfilling all of the wish list items, the school had enough funds available to provide each person on the CCSEM list with an additional surprise gift card. 

“This is a testament to the generosity of our All Saints families — parents, grandparents, students, and staff members,” Zahari said. “We could not have done this without them, and the fact that they looked outward to the community to help other families in need, no matter what their own personal situation might be at this time.”

Catholic Charities described how efforts like the All Saints’ Advent Giving Tree make a difference in the lives of those it helps. 

A group of All Saints teachers helped to load the U-Haul rental truck to transport the Christmas gifts to the offices of the Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan.

“It is pure joy,” said CCSEM’s director of child welfare Kristie Hardin. “To see the reaction of the youth and foster families when our case managers enter the home with a large bag of gifts is pure joy. It’s one of the highlights of the holiday. It’s like feeling a little like one of Santa’s helpers. Most children — they immediately ask, ‘Is that for me?’ with wonder in their voice and a smile on their face. To be able to be a part of that magic is amazing.

“I love that kids are helping other kids,” Hardin continued. “This year was a little different with the pandemic, but I really enjoyed last year being able to sit with the young leaders of All Saints and share with them information about foster care and adoption. (It is important) to help to reduce the stigma of foster care and to answer questions they may have had.”

Zahari added the students were aware of the scope of the donation drive even though they could not personally sort gifts or make the delivery. 

“It is eye-opening to our young people to be able to make a difference in the lives of others. We are hoping this knowledge will inspire them to be involved in the future and seek out additional volunteer opportunities,” Zahari said. 

She also noted the school is already planning for its annual Lenten toiletries drive in 2021 and hopes the pandemic will lesson by then to will allow for more direct student involvement. 

All Saints assistant principal Scott Wisniewski, left,, fifth and sixth grade teacher Russ Facione, and junior high teacher Amy Roose help load the U-Haul with Christmas gifts.

Roose and Zahari relish their role as “Santa’s Elves” in coordinating the All Saints/CCSEM connection. 

“From a personal standpoint, it was a chance for Barb and I to talk about our All Saints partnership with CCSEM in stores when people stopped to ask which charity we were buying for,” Roose said. “We had the opportunity to talk about our school and our generous families, students, and staff members, as well as the platform to educate the public on how adoption and foster care programs work.”

“I am so glad we were able to provide actual presents, gift-wrapped in boxes with real wrapping paper,” Zahari said. “There's nothing like having a child jumping in to open a box covered in paper on Christmas morning, and the joy that brings to their heart.”

CCSEM's Hardin was grateful to the All Saints community for their ongoing support. 

“On behalf of the Child Welfare program, we cannot thank everyone enough,” Hardin said. “We continue to be inspired by your generosity and thoughtfulness. Additionally, CCSEM would like to continue to spread the word about foster care and adoption and or need for foster parents.”

For more information about CCSEM’s programs, please contact Kristie Hardin at hardink@ccsem.org..

Michele Santillan is director of advancement and marketing for All Saints Catholic School in Canton.