Orange/Seminole Foster Children’s Association goes virtual with holiday help | West Orange Times & Observer

The season of giving is often associated with food campaigns, red cauldrons, and toy collection bins. But a local nonprofit is raising awareness about the needs of foster families and asking the community to bring the holiday spirit into their homes.

The Orange/Seminole Foster Children’s Association (OSFCA) offers a range of assistance to foster and adoptive parents. Founded in 1986, the association originally served foster families in Orange and Seminole counties, but has since expanded to include Osceola County. Monthly meetings provide guidance, ongoing training, and emotional support. The association also helps foster families to give all their children a happy holiday through an angel label.

“We support the foster families as a whole,” said OSFCA President Jerry Pitzer, who has an estimated 55 total foster homes in the West Orange County area. “We want foster children to be included in the families they live with as if they were their children.”

To that end, any child in a foster home — be it biological or foster — may request seven wishes, each limited to $30. The child’s first name, dress sizes, and wishes are listed on a tag. Those who want to donate take the tags and buy the gifts. Many businesses in the region accept multiple tags and create an angel tree for employees and customers to donate.

“We’re providing seven gifts so the family can buy each child that one gift they can’t live without,” said Pitzer. “You can divide your Christmas budget, which you would normally spend on your biological children, among all the children and thus fulfill the big demand of the year for everyone.”

“I’m a school teacher, so I’ve always been involved with kids, and I’ve always wanted to be a foster home,” says Winter Garden resident Jennifer Downs, who has benefited from OSFCA services. “When the time came when I was able to support myself financially, I dove in and went to foster homes and get registered and did all the paperwork, background checks, and became a foster parent.”

Downs, who teaches science to the sixth grade at SunRidge Middle School, started foster care ten years ago. She opened her home to 18 children in seven years and adopted her 9-year-old son, Jaxon, in 2013. She dropped out of foster care in 2019, after a breast cancer diagnosis. She is currently in remission and plans to return to foster care in the future, but has taken charge of OSFCA’s angel tag efforts.

Because last year’s COVID-19 closed the affected businesses, and residents had the opportunity to shop in person. Many schools in the area that typically donate, including Dr. Phillips High, were unable to make their angel tree on site. Downs turned to web-based contributions by creating an Amazon wish list. She saved the gifts and helped with distribution, and found that even more people were willing to contribute through the online option. “Members can share through their Facebook accounts and we were given the premise to post to Winter Garden Rants, Raves and Reviews, so it worked really well.”

As many companies are out of office and some have ceased operations due to the pandemic, it has been decided to keep the virtual option this year.

“It’s so easy to click a button from home and make a difference,” Downs said.

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