When Karli McNamee was a little girl, her family lived in a trailer park. They didn’t have much and struggled to make ends meet every month. Still, looking back, Karli says it took her years to realize they were poor.
“Sometimes my parents would come and tell us, ‘Hey kids, today we’re going to learn how the pioneers lived!’ And we’d pitch a tent in our living room and turn off all of the lights to learn how it was without electricity. Well, I found out later on that they did that because we couldn’t pay the electric bill. We didn’t have power, and they found a way to make it fun and not scary,” she says.
These “magical moments” shaped Karli’s childhood. When she got older and her parents started making more money, they taught her to give back with what they had. Today, Karli puts those values to work every holiday season when she spearheads Fostering Christmas as the executive assistant to Newsletter Pro CEO Shaun Buck.
What Is Fostering Christmas?
Shaun founded Fostering Christmas in 2014 when he learned that hundreds of kids go without presents every year on Christmas morning because of quirks in the Idaho foster care system. That year, he promised he would personally buy gifts for every foster child in need in Canyon County — and he followed through! But the next year, the need was even greater. To meet it, Shaun formed the nonprofit Fostering Christmas and opened donations up to his employees, family, and friends.
Social workers in Ada County, Canyon County, and beyond send wish lists to Fostering Christmas every year. Kids who entered the foster care system too late to receive gifts from the Salvation Army write them. Each list has three presents the kids would love to receive. In 2016, Fostering Christmas saved the season for 68 foster children from ages 1–18. In 2017, it helped 81, and in 2018, it took on 102 Christmas lists with the support of sponsors across the community. Last year, a record-breaking 229 kids needed Christmas presents, and the nonprofit stepped up to help them all.
Why We Share The Love
Karli took over the day-to-day operations of Fostering Christmas when she started working at Newsletter Pro in 2016. In 2020, she’s more passionate about helping these kids than ever, and her goal this year is to give them the full Christmas experience.
“Some communities have already banded together to take care of their local kids’ wish lists, and that’s really gratifying to see. But, unfortunately, a lot of sponsors this year have fewer resources to spend because of COVID-19. That means these kids and social workers need help in other areas,” she says.
Fostering Christmas is still taking on wish lists, but it’s also asking the community to donate empty Christmas stockings and the candy, trinkets, and gift cards to fill them. These small touches can make all the difference for a foster child in need. The nonprofit will also provide essentials like socks, gloves, and feminine hygiene products — things kids sometimes ask for on their wish lists. Despite its best efforts, the foster care system struggles to meet their basic needs.
“We want to make sure these kids know their needs are taken care of, but so are their wants,” Karli says, referring to the Christmas lists and stockings. “A lot of these kids haven’t had much of that attention. We want to show them, ‘Hey, you are worthy of having the same kind of access as your peers. Life has handed you a really raw deal, and maybe you can’t have the thing you want most right now, but the community is going to show you you’re worthy. Here’s a gift card so when your friends go to McDonald’s, you can go, too, without having to make up an excuse for why you can’t afford it.’”
How Karli Learned: Doorbell Ditch Santa
When Karli makes calls to solicit donations or network with local social workers for Fostering Christmas, she often thinks about the lessons her parents taught her about generosity and helping others. One year, when her family had just escaped poverty, they did what she calls a “ding-dong ditch Santa Claus.” They dropped a sack full of Christmas presents on the front stoop of a family in need.
“On Christmas Eve, we snuck up to their doorstep and deposited this giant bag, then ding-dong ditched and dashed back to the car so they’d have no idea who did it. They opened the door and the kids screamed, ‘Santa was here!’ But it really hit me when the mom found the bag. She was sobbing, just crying so hard. That turned it from something fun into something sacred. That’s the way you make Santa Claus. The whole spirit of the season is letting people know they’ve been noticed. I think the best gift isn’t necessarily what’s most expensive, but what’s most meaningful.”
How You Can Help
Wish lists are already coming into Fostering Christmas’ inbox, but they’re arriving more sporadically than usual. If you want to help Karli, Shaun, and the rest of the nonprofit’s donors and volunteers give back, you can claim the name of a foster kid (or more than one!) to buy gifts for using the form provided by the organization. You can also help craft the full Christmas experience by donating any of these items (brand-new, please):
- Empty Christmas stockings
- Stocking stuffers like candy, gift cards, small toys, and trinkets for kids of all ages
- Socks, gloves, toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products, and other essentials
- Money for social workers to use to buy these key items
Donations can be dropped off or shipped to Newsletter Pro’s office at this address:
Newsletter Pro / Fostering Christmas
391 N. Ancestor Place, Suite 150
Boise, ID, 83704
Every dollar donated and every wish fulfilled makes a difference. Will you step up to save Christmas?