Taking care of foster kids is a mission that Tonya Flory takes seriously, having grown up in the state system herself.
The thought of children not receiving a gift on Christmas — something she experienced — has led Flory to launch a last-minute toy drive called Operation Gorge Heart to make the holidays merrier for foster children.
Flory, advertising director for The Dalles Chronicle, said foster children can feel forgotten, unknown and unloved during the time of year when other families are reuniting for a celebration.
“When it gets into the holiday season, the first thing I think of is how I want to make it better for children who don’t have a mother or father who are providing for them. My heart goes out to these kids and I want to do what I can to help,” she said.
Flory has arranged several drop-off points for people wanting to donate gifts until Sunday afternoon.
She said new, unwrapped toys for ages infant through 18 (gift cards are good for teens), can be left at the Chronicle, 315 Federal St., or Post S Tire Factory, 1116 W. Second St., in The Dalles.
They can also be dropped off in Hood River at Rosauers, 1868 12th St., and Point S Tire Factory, 945 Tucker Rd.
“I know it’s late to be doing this but I have to try,” said Flory. “It was just weighing on my heart that I needed to do something because I was a foster kid. Now I have my own family and my husband and I get to watch our daughters open gifts — I want all children to have that joy.”
In October, Flory completed her training to become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for children in Wasco County.
She plans to confer with people she met in the system to get toys into the hands of agency officials who can deliver them.
In 2015, there were 174 foster children in Wasco County, according to a report by the Department of Human Services.
The majority of these children were taken into state custody due to parental neglect.
State officials contend that alcohol and drug issues represent the largest single family stress factor —- at 47.2 percent across the state — when child abuse/neglect was present.
The next most common stressors were domestic violence, 32.6 percent, and parent/caregiver involvement with law enforcement agencies, 27 percent.
A total of 11,238 children spent at least one day in some kind of foster care in 2015, with 140 of those children living in Wasco County.
Of all victims helped by child protective services across the state, 46.6 percent were younger than 6 years old.
“Every child should feel like someone cares, especially at Christmas, so I’m asking the community to care,” said Flory. She can be reached for more information at 541-705-7217.