By Amy Webb
When Arkansas adoption advocate Christie Erwin realized the pandemic would force her to cancel her organization’s annual Candyland Christmas luncheon for hundreds of children and teens in foster care, she promised herself she’d find a way to deliver all their gifts.
And boy did she find a big way.
“This year has brought challenges to all of our favorite traditions and celebrations, but the work and the need don’t stop,” said Shannon Newton, Arkansas Trucking Association president and board member of Project Zero. “Truck wheels have not stopped turning and children have not stopped hoping for a merry Christmas. Whether it’s at an annual gathering or spread across dozens of cities throughout the state, hope is something we can always deliver.”
The trucking association partnered with some big transportation firms and donated six big rigs, drivers, and equipment for Erwin’s Project Zero to deliver bags of gifts to every corner of the state, and Candyland Christmas To-Go was born. Erwin and her team worked with the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to get gift lists for nearly 500 children and teens in foster care.
Then they put out the call to churches, communities, businesses, and supporters of Project Zero to adopt lists and make sure these children get what they asked for this Christmas. That’s important, Erwin said, because it is a way to show children that they have worth and great value.
She summed up Candyland Christmas this way in a recent Facebook post about one of the lists she received.
“He only wants name brand clothing for Christmas because he’s tired of the other kids making fun of him.” DCFS Family Service Worker. Rest assured HE WILL BE RECEIVING only name brand clothing this Christmas. Can you imagine how it must feel to have lost everything; your family, your school, your home, your life, and being thrust into a world of strangers and constant movement? Then add the fact that the world may not view children in foster care the way they should be viewed; they are not second best, second hand, or second rate. They are valuable, unique, amazing children and teens who, if given the opportunity, will thrive, heal and change this world.”
People donated laptops and gaming stations, kindles and ipads, bicycles, Nike shoes and so much more. Project Zero volunteers and DCFS staff got to work at their “North Pole,” filling colorful bags with beautifully wrapped gifts, making sure to include the big-ticket items and a soft stuffed animal.
With some logistical magic on par with what Santa must do, the trucks left Little Rock on Saturday morning, Dec. 5, making 12 Santa stops in all and delivering every single gift.
“Our waiting kids are going to get to have a magical Christmas,” Erwin said in a Facebook live on Friday before volunteers started loading the trucks. “I am just beyond thrilled this morning that this vision is going to come to life.”