WILKES-BARRE -- They arrived early Sunday, dressed in their holiday best, barely able to contain their excitement. They stared wide-eyed at Christmas lights glittering off the mirrored ballroom and knew at once who would sit in the high-backed maroon arm chair near the front.
“Santa’s going to be here. He’s going to give us presents,” said Makeda, 5. She was hoping for a My Little Pony – pink, if possible, Santa – while sister Keiania, 4, wanted a sunshine baby.
“It’s a little baby you can hold in your hands,” she explained.
Some kids, such as Zachary, 8, and Ken, 9, were hoping Santa’s bag had video games. Others, like 4-year-old Josh, had a serious dilemma. “I don’t want to sit on his lap,” he said, tears filling his dark eyes, “but I want a present.”
The kids were some of more than 200 in the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services foster program who were treated to a Christmas party at Genetti’s.
The children and about 120 foster parents gathered around festive red-and-green decked tables and enjoyed pizza, cookies, entertainment by Jo Jo the Clown and, of course, the visit from Santa and his bag of gifts.
Supervisor of foster care Marijo Sullivan said Christmas parties were being held for the children when she started work there 27 years ago, but thanks to some generous benefactors in the community, this year’s was the best ever.
“We usually have it in school cafeterias, but because the number of foster kids increases every year, we can’t find a place big enough,” she said. Last year’s party was held over three days to accommodate all the children, something that made it hard on children who have birth siblings placed in different homes.
“This is a chance for them to get together and enjoy a holiday celebration together,” Sullivan said.
This year, Sullivan said, the owners of Really Cookin,’ a restaurant in the Back Mountain, offered to hold a fundraiser to benefit the party.
“They provided the food and beverages, and there was a raffle with prizes donated by Back Mountain businesses, and all the proceeds came to us,” Sullivan said. In all, $8,000 was raised, enough to hold this year’s party with some left over, she said.
“Genetti’s was wonderfully generous to us, giving us these rooms at a really discounted price. The community came together to help us do this and we’re really grateful we were able to get all the kids together.”
Denise and Larry Evans, foster parents for 13 years, said the party is important because it’s a chance for foster kids to meet and for their foster parents to get together, too.
“It’s great when the kids get together and can see other kids their own age that are foster children. They know they aren’t alone. And it’s great to see the other foster parents, to find out how things are going, how are you dealing with this or that, because these kids have their own set of issues,” Denise Evans said.
The Evans have a son, Danny, 21, and have adopted three of the children they have fostered: Brittany, 14, her brother Peter, 12, and Jonathan, 11.
They are preparing to adopt two more foster daughters now in their care, something that had Brittany more excited at the party.
“I can’t wait until they are my sisters,” she said, noting that being adopted, “is good, because then you have a family and a lot of other people don’t.”