For most Hanover children, Christmas is filled with the smell of fresh-baked cookies, the sounds of holiday music, and the knowledge that Santa Claus is on his way.
But for thousands of kids across the state spending the holiday season in foster care, Christmas joy can be harder to come by, a lesson Hanover resident and mom Kristen Dailey learned firsthand while fostering a teenage girl. It was seven years ago that Dailey first reached out to the state Department of Family Services and asked how she could help around the holidays. The agency sent her the Christmas lists of a New Bedford family unable to afford gifts under the tree, and she shopped, wrapped, and dropped off gifts for two parents and two children. Two years later, she took on 12 lists and distributed them among a close group of friends in town. From there, it was on.
"I thought, 'Maybe this is something other people would want to do,' so I posted about it online and it's just blown up," Dailey said this week. "People look forward to it every year and it just grows and grows."
This year, volunteers in Hanover took care of the wish lists of almost 200 kids in need, 142 children in the Department of Family Services system, and 52 local kids whose families needed a boost this Christmas. Dailey singlehandedly coordinates lists and matches them with volunteers from the town to spread holiday cheer as far and wide as possible.
"They love it. Everyone immediately says 'count us in' or 'we want to do it,'" Dailey said. "I'm always clear that this is a full list. It's not a gift tree asking for a single thing. It's a big ask, what these people do."
Plymouth County Department of Family Services sends as many lists to Dailey as she has volunteers to fill them, about six weeks before Christmas. She puts the information into a spreadsheet and does her best to match volunteers to lists that make sense. If a volunteer has an 8-year-old son, for instance, she'll pass that family the list of someone similar in age and interests.
Then, it's time to shop. The lists can vary greatly from child to child, but all include their clothing size, shoe size, favorite brands, and a list of specifically requested gifts.
One list this year, for a 12-year-old girl, told the shopper that she was a size 14 in kids' clothes, liked Nike, and needed pajamas and hoodies. The girl was also able to request Bath and Body Works products, headbands, gift cards to Apple, Burger King, and Mcdonald's, slippers, and fuzzy socks.
"There are kids who ask for bikes and kids who ask for game systems and kids who ask for the basics, like a comforter for their bed," Dailey said. "One kid this year asked for silverware. If there's not a lot on a list, so many people will go above and beyond and buy Christmas pajamas or gifts for other family members.
"Once the gifts are purchased, the volunteers wrap them and drop them off about two weeks before Christmas. Then, social workers distribute them to families through Christmas Eve.
"This is super-important to me and I just couldn't do it without the people of this town," Dailey said. "The volunteers make it all happen. I just organize a spreadsheet.
"The Department of Children and Family Services is seeking volunteers to house foster children amid a shortage of eligible families. Both long-term placement and short-term emergency care volunteers are needed. The state asks anyone interested in applying regardless of age or marital status to call (800) 543-7508 or visit mass.gov.