River Landing staff and residents gave area foster families an evening they will never forget this December by hosting a special drive-through event to help ensure the children have a joyful Christmas.

The Children’s Home Society event took place Thursday evening, December 17, at River Landing of Sandy Ridge. According to Tom Smith, River Landing’s Executive Director, the community was able to give more than 55 families who attended the event gifts and $100 Food Lion gift cards — all donated by staff and residents.

Prior to 2020, the staff at River Landing had held a dinner for the Children’s Home Society families complete with Santa Claus, prizes and activities for the children and food for the families to take home. The event started a few years ago when staff members were looking for a way to help families out in the community during the holidays.

“We were looking for something we could do during the holidays that would be a blessing for someone else.” The Children’s Home Society was already doing a holiday event but couldn’t afford to do much, making the partnership with River Landing a perfect match.

With the pandemic, however, organizers had to come up with a different way to help the families this year.

The idea for having the families drive through the community led staff organizers to wonder if the residents would be willing to participate. Their answer came quickly and resoundingly as residents jumped at the chance to decorate, gather gifts and donations and volunteer to direct traffic on the night of the event.

“They went all out,” says Tom. “We were amazed at the outpouring of support from the residents. We normally get one present for each of the kids. Thanks to the residents’ generosity, we were able to get two gifts this year for 100 kids. They’ve really chipped in and made the Food Lion gift card possible.”

“The residents have been searching for a purpose and looking for ways to serve, because they have been so well served by our staff here.,” adds Lisa Waite, Director of Resident Services at River Landing. “They’ve wanted to find a way to touch people’s lives in a positive, safe way… It’s been fun.”

Instead of decking the halls this year, the community decked out the campus with lights, decorations and holiday music. Families cruised through, staying safely in their cars and taking in all of the holiday spirit they could stand, including social distanced visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

With residents involved, the event was so successful and helped so many foster families, Tom suspects that they may have just created a new River Landing holiday tradition. “We’re starting to get a feeling that this may have to be an annual event,” says Tom.

In addition to the event, the staff does its own gift giving by acting as gift “angels” for 14 foster children through the Children’s Home Society. This year, the staff brought in almost 300 items to give to the children.

“We’re not the only ones, fortunately, who does this,” adds Tom. “The Children’s Home Society ran out of kids to buy gifts for. But we’re really proud to be doing something good for the Children’s Home Society folks.”


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