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DCF Wants Residents Help With 'Operation Santa Cause'

An initiative is underway to help several families and groups that are struggling this holiday season. State officials are asking Floridians for their support as part of “Operation Santa Cause” Holiday Campaign.

The “Operation Santa Cause”---that's cause, not clause---campaign is an effort by the Florida Department of Children and Families to help those who are in need this holiday season. Department spokeswoman Erin Gillespie:

“We asked our local folks around the state to give us a list of some families that we knew were in need, but trying to get back on their feet and could really use some help this holiday season," said Gillespie. "And, we narrowed it down to 12 families all across the state, every area has one or two and we’re asking the community to come together and help support these families in their time of need.”

Some of those selected include a childcare center that needs some new computers, a disabled elderly woman who needs a new roof, and a struggling family in need of a car.

Gillespie says there’s also a single mother of three who’s homeless and looking to rent an apartment.

“Both she and her children have some medical issues that they’re dealing with, and what they’re looking for is a place where she can live," said Gillespie.

"And, they’re not asking for someone to buy her a house or to pay her rent for a year, but just someone to get her started. And, we know it’s very difficult for a family to find a deposit and first month’s rent and last month’s rent for some of these places. So, this woman just needs help to find a roof over her children’s head.”

Gillespie says while the department’s campaign highlights selected groups or families in need, her agency hopes the campaign sends a broader message to residents to help everyone in need.

Participants were selected from different areas of the state, including Leon County, Broward County, and the Orlando area.

Below is more information on each individual family provided by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.


Below are 12 stories from individuals and families in this state who need a helping hand this holiday season. These are 12 individuals or families whose challenges we have witnessed firsthand. If you know of anyone in your community who would like to make a difference this year, please contact us at the number provided below each story. We will then connect you with the local organizations making these wishes come true this holiday season.


Leon County: A single mother of three who is currently homeless, is diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and her youngest is diagnosed with ADHD. Her oldest son serves our country through the U.S. Army and her second oldest lives with other family. She provides direct care for her youngest child who is 11 years old. The mother isn’t looking for a handout; she is simply looking for a helping hand. A home safe and secure and just enough for her family to live in, instead of with friends, in cars and in local shelters. She believes she can make monthly payments, but has no money to set up a new home.
Wish: A place that she, her son and her mom can call home. They need help with the deposit and initial rent – total $1,200.
Contact: Nicole Stookey, 850-488-0568, or Nicole_Stookey@dcf.state.fl.us

Escambia County: The Carver Community Center in Escambia County is 100 percent funded by community donations. The facility provides a safe place for children to go after school and during the summer, meals for 150 to 200 children each day, and also tutoring services for children year round.
Wish: The Center needs Internet service and 15 computers to replace the current computers that are old and very slow. To assist the children in developing reading skills, the Center uses “Ultimate Speed Reader” software. Each license costs around $35 and they need 15. The cost of a computer varies but is about $650 each for Dell All In One computers. The Internet service is about $100 each month.
Contact: Nicole Stookey, 850-488-0568, or Nicole_Stookey@dcf.state.fl.us

Jacksonville area: A single mom works full time and takes care of her 18-year-old son who has Muscular Dystrophy and hearing loss. The mom strives to meet the demanding needs of having a special needs child. She recently was advised that her son’s teacher had been working with him using an iPad and that he had really developed an interest in using it. They now believe that it would be beneficial as a new way for him to communicate. It could open a whole new world for him. Such a potentially useful piece of technology is not funded by insurance, supplied by the school or affordable for the family themselves, so obtaining one is difficult.
Wish: An iPad for this amazing young man to call his own.
Contact: John Harrell, 904-723-5470, or John_Harrell@dcf.state.fl.us

Marion County: A disabled adult needs a new roof for her home and is unable to afford the cost. Her roof leaks severely when it rains and as a result the home has active mold. This is detrimental to the client’s health as she is on oxygen due to respiratory issues.
Wish: An organization or group of individuals willing to assist with repairing her roof and removing the mold. Estimated cost for roof repair is thousands of dollars. Professional skills could also be donated.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

Orlando area: A woman adopted a sibling group of four several years ago. At the time of the adoption, she knew one of the siblings passed away from a degenerative brain disorder. Since that time, three of the four children have been diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), an inherited disorder, and almost always fatal within 10 years of symptoms. In January, one of the children died at the age of 13 and in October, the 8 year old passed away. The mother lost her job and has since taken a pay cut working a job from home to continue to care for the other two children.
Wish: Provide holiday joy for the two children that are still in her home. Financial assistance to alleviate the outstanding $1,700 in funeral expenses, $500 to cover the cost of the family’s holiday gifts on layaway at Kmart.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

Orlando area: A single mother of four children between the ages of 2 and 14 has no car and travels with all of her children by walking or public transportation. She currently works in a plant nursery. She is a humble, hard-working mother who is grateful for the opportunity to work and provide a safe home for herself and her children. These hardships have not prevented her from ensuring her children attend school regularly.
Wish: Child care for the younger siblings would help and ensure they are in a safe and nurturing environment while their mom is at work. A licensed child care facility could donate up to a year of care. Or an organization or individual could provide financial assistance to keep the children in quality child care.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

Polk County area: A disabled adult would benefit from someone helping to maintain her yard. Her grass is not yet a code violation, but there are very unkempt, high weeds and there are bushes that need to be trimmed away from doors and windows.
Wish: An individual or organization willing to donate lawn services.
Contact: Kristi Gray (407) 317-7042 or Kristin_Gray@dcf.state.fl.us

Hillsborough County: A young single parent with two small kids who is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is now living in a roach-infested and crime-ridden apartment complex because she is struggling to start her new life here in America. She is working at a local hotel and very involved in a local church and is an incredible example of resiliency.
Wish: She and her family have identified a possible house to rent. To make the move, they need help with the deposit, first month’s rent and transferring utilities. A total of $2,500 would cover costs.
Contact: Teresa Durdaller, 813-337-5854 or Teresa_Durdaller@dcf.state.fl.us

Broward County: With each passing year, a 16-year-old boy’s dreams of finding a forever family dwindled. However, through the work of a team of persistent social workers and case managers, the young man’s older sister was identified as a possible adoptive parent. The new adoptive mom is 21 years old and is a former foster child herself. She is working to support herself and her 2-year-old son. Despite having a lot on her plate, she adopted her teenage brother. Since the young man has been adopted, he is thriving. However, transportation is a barrier. The case manager has worked with the sister to help her budget for fuel and insurance, but the cost of a vehicle purchase remains out of reach.
Wish: A donated car would put the icing on the cake so this newly reunited family can continue on their path to success.
Contact: Paige Patterson-Hughes, 954-202-3209, or Paige_Patterson-Hughes@dcf.state.fl.us

Broward County: Two sisters, one 16 and the other 13, are currently being raised by their grandmother due to their mother's mental health and substance abuse issues. The family is living well below poverty. The 16-year-old has an emotional disability and the majority of her disability funds are used to help her grandmother pay rent and other bills. The girls slept on the floor prior to receiving beds from the community-based care organization ChildNet.
Wish: The holidays would be extra special if the girls could get a room makeover. The
girls need a dresser, curtains, sheets and other small items for their room. Estimated cost for the room makeover is around $2,500.
Contact: Paige Patterson-Hughes, 954-202-3209, or Paige_Patterson-Hughes@dcf.state.fl.us

Miami-Dade County: A single working mother adopted her nephew and another foster child. They are very good boys, very well-mannered and do well in school. The mother is struggling since her sister moved out and she cannot afford rent on her own. She has been looking for another place, but has not been able to find anything decent for the boys to live in and not disrupt their school. Even under these pressures, she continues to fundraise for foster kids and is a moral support to the foster and adoptive families that participate in the local foster parent association.
Wish: Rent assistance and holiday gifts for the boys. Rent for six months is estimated to be $6,000. Toys for the two boys are estimated to be $500.
Contact: Lissette Valdes-Valle, 786-257-5056, or Lissette_Valdes-Valle@dcf.state.fl.us

Miami-Dade: A 24-year-old father who grew up in foster care and was never adopted had a baby with a woman that had a drug problem. The baby was placed in the care of a foster parent when he was born. The foster parent co-parented with the birth father until he was able to get custody of his baby boy who is now 18 months old. The birth father is young and has no family support, but he is doing a great job caring for his son on his own. He is searching for a job but has not had any luck.
Wish: Calls from prospective employers about job opportunities would be welcome. Holiday gifts for an 18 month old and help with basic needs would also help to make the holiday special. Gifts $300; basic needs $1,000.
Contact: Lissette Valdes-Valle, 786-257-5056, or Lissette_Valdes-Valle@dcf.state.fl.us

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.