The Northern New Jersey Community Foundation (NNJCF) is brightening the holidays for children in foster care in the region with grants of $1,000 each to Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Bergen, Hudson, and Passaic Counties. The NNJCF, a nonprofit organization based in Hackensack, New Jersey, responded to the escalating needs of children in foster care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CASAs are independent nonprofit organizations working with professionals and trained volunteers appointed by the New Jersey Family Court to advocate on behalf of children removed from their homes because of abuse and/or neglect. They help the children obtain needed services and find safe, permanent homes.

“During the holiday season, the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation hopes to bring some joy and happiness into the lives of foster children. These grant awards from our COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to the Court Appointed Special Advocates in Bergen, Hudson, and Passaic Counties provide for the purchase of holiday items for the youngsters. Many of them were recently placed with nothing more than the clothes they wore. Every child deserves a moment of excitement and joy in the holiday season,” said Mary Blanusa, Executive Director, Northern New Jersey Community Foundation.

Holidays a Lonely Time for Foster Children

During the COVID-19 pandemic, foster children are lonely and more socially isolated. Many are confined to their homes and unable to be visited by their Division caseworkers. They are socially isolated and unable to see their classmates. Some have lost parents and family members from the virus. While other children and their families have tested positive for COVID-19 and been quarantined.

According to CASA of Bergen County, the children worry if they will see their parents, speak to their siblings, or if their mothers or fathers will remain clean and sober. The children face a bleak holiday, as in-person visits with their families are limited and the companionship of school friends is virtually nonexistent. They are lonelier and even more isolated.

As needs have increased during the pandemic, the CASAs work to ensure the children are safe and receive services. The Foundation’s grant awards help each CASA purchase items the children need and want. “This grant helps Bergen County CASA ensure abused and neglected foster children have a brighter holiday and receive not only gifts they need… but more importantly, gifts they want — whether it is a special toy, warm pajamas, or school supplies to make remote learning a bit easier. With the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation’s help, we can change a child’s story and bring a smile to a child, who deserves better,” said Lucy Rosen, Executive Director, Bergen County CASA.

Conveying someone cares for them is critical at this time. “Thanks to the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation’s support we can ensure a semblance of normalcy this year for children entering the foster care system in the middle of the holiday season. Giving a gift to a child during this traumatic time in their lives is more than the gift itself. It ensures they know people in this world care about their wellbeing, and they are not alone, explained Erica Kaslander, Executive Director of Passaic County CASA

“Typically, our donors choose wish lists to fulfill children’s holiday wishes in November, leaving a gap for new children, who may, unfortunately, need to be removed from their homes between then and the end of the year. NNJCF surprised us with this funding, which was an absolute blessing, particularly this year.”

For teenagers in the foster care system, the holidays are very difficult. Hudson County CASA plans to use the Foundation’s donation to provide gift cards to the teenagers it services, enabling them to shop and purchase items they want. “Hudson County CASA was grateful to receive a $1,000 grant to purchase holiday gift cards for teenagers in foster care. The holidays are really hard for them because every message seems to be about family, and they do not have one, nor are they likely to get one. Gift cards are great because the teens have the pleasure of receiving and then the pleasure of shopping,” said Beverly Savage, Executive Director, Hudson County CASA.

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