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Toy drive is a success

Pandemic doesn’t lessen collections

Despite the pandemic, a toy drive to deliver a merry Christmas to  kids taken from their parents was a success.

“I’m very grateful that people once again helped out with a great cause,” said drive organizer Esha Sharma. “It’s really close to my heart and I think a lot of people are always looking for ways to help and just sort of need an outlet and so I’m really happy I was able to provide one.”

Sharma said she was worried about the collection because the number of people coming into the Monongalia County Justice Center is down due to COVID-19. So, she put the boxes in the lobby and started in October, rather than November, and created an Amazon wish list so people wouldn’t have to shop or visit the justice center.

Five  boxes were filled.

As a law clerk for Judge Susan Tucker, Sharma sees a lot of abuse and neglect cases — and a lot of kids removed from their parents.

“The overwhelming reason is substance abuse issues,” she said. “That precipitates circumstances where these children, unfortunately, cannot be in their parents’ care and the court has to intervene. They aren’t getting the care they need, they’re being neglected because of the parents’ substance abuse, so, that’s the majority of why kids are taken away, unfortunately.”

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources picked up, wrapped and distributed the toys.

BreeAnna Cunningham, a senior child protective services worker, said most of the toys end up going to kids who are being fostered in kinship relative homes — family that isn’t their parents. Kids in traditional foster homes have other assistance options, she said.

“Grandparents raising kids is huge around here,” Cunningham said. “Lots of grandparents, uncles, even adult siblings who are raising kids coming straight from the hospital to kids in their teens. We try to place with family if it’s available and appropriate.”

Cunningham and two co-workers wrapped all of the gifts, labeled them by gender and age-appropriateness and then figured out which  kids would get each toy. It took the three of them until 1 a.m.

Cunningham said she’s thankful to Sharma for setting up the drive. The toy drive helped — a lot — and the reactions from families were appreciative.

In many cases, Cunningham asked the guardians take pictures that can be seen by the parents.

Sharma said, “I’m really happy that a cause I care so much about everyone else seems to care about, too, and has really pulled together. We couldn’t do it without the community, so, I really appreciate everyone coming together and doing what they can — COVID or not. It means a lot and it’s really, truly a testament to the Mon County community.”

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