Cookies with Santa event grows larger each year

December 2017—Hundreds of children, fresh baked cookies to decorate, crafts, games and activities and of course, the chance to visit Santa and take home a gift. This is what the annual Cookies with Santa event is all about!

2018 is the seventh year that the special evening, hosted by the Winnipeg CFS Foster Care/Kinship Program, has taken place, and co-chairs Heather Wonnick (a resource supervisor with WCFS) and Sheri Smelsky, (a foster care supervisor), say it continues to grow larger and more exciting every year. This year, 265 foster children were registered.

“It started in a church basement in East Kildonan and there were 34 kids,” laughed Wonnick.

“We saw the excitement in the kids’ eyes when they saw Santa and thought, how can this grow?”

She noted that through word of mouth and lots of staff interest in volunteering, Cookies with Santa became more and more popular.
“Each year, it has increased in size. The last three years we have had 200 plus kids. It has just caught on.” The event has become so large it’s now held in a gym at the North End Centennial Centre.

She said it’s a highly anticipated event for foster children and their families. All the children who take part in Cookies with Santa live in WCFS foster homes.

“I think the best thing about it are the kids’ eyes when they see Santa,” added Wonnick.

“It’s really about celebrating our foster parents too,” she said. “Sometimes kids have siblings placed in different homes and they are able to celebrate with Santa together. It’s about supporting foster parents and helping them with networking as well.”

Foster Parents

Foster couple Lisa and Jessie Hamm, who have attended several times, agree that the event is not only good for the children but also for the foster parents.

“Sometimes you meet new ones…It’s always a good chance to reconnect with other ones. It’s nice to be in a room where you’re like, ‘Look, everyone’s like me,’” said Lisa Hamm. “In most areas of life, for example at the playground, we are the only foster parents.”
“It adds so much normalcy to it.”

She said Cookies with Santa is a great event for foster children because they have been through a lot. “It’s nice to have something just for them.”

Her husband, Jessie, said that his favourite part of Cookies with Santa is getting to connect with other foster parents. Sometimes they exchange phone numbers and arrange coffee dates. “One of the biggest and most frightening things foster parents face is being in it alone. I don’t want that to be anybody’s story.”

Jannet Hibbert, who has been a foster mom for 17 years, says her family has been coming to Cookies with Santa since it began.
“If we’re in town, we come every year. The kids get to have cookies and sugar. They enjoy it.”

She said her foster children especially like the crafts. This year’s included homemade wreaths, decorating Christmas ornaments and making Styrofoam snowmen.

Another foster mother, Helene Gray, who has been fostering for five years, said she enjoys the children’s excitement.

“I really like seeing all of the kids have a good time – meeting each other and playing. They can also make new friends. It gives them a sense of normalcy.”

She also mentioned that it was nice to see workers having a good time.

“Our workers do such a good job. It’s nice to see them having fun.”

Volunteer help

About 75 volunteers are also required to run the event.

Shopping for gifts begins in October. Families receive a gift for each child in the family.

Each year, more staff are interested in volunteering, said Smelsky.

“We get a lot of people saying they want to volunteer, saying they love seeing the kids with Santa at Christmas.”

What they also find is that workers who volunteer may also bring family members to help out, such as Jill and Taylor Brown, who were handing out gingerbread and sugar cookies for children to decorate with icing and sprinkles (baked by students at Tech Voc High School). Taylor is a social work student who is also a foster volunteer, and she invited her mom along to volunteer this year. It was her first time at Cookies with Santa and she said it was a great event. “I like the idea that all the foster kids are together having fun.”

Wonnick and Smelsky said they will continue to co-chair Cookies with Santa because it’s something that’s good for all.

“It’s something joyful we can provide for kids in care,” Smelsky said, and for front line-staff, “it’s something positive for them.”