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The journey of the name on the tree

Saturday, December 24, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Kathy Boggs holds up a shirt in Target while looking for items from the needs list of a foster child in Missouri.

COLUMBIA — Kathy Boggs stared at the Christmas tree.

Hanging on ribbons from the branches was a cascade of cards holding the names of children and their holiday lists.

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As other people came and went, Boggs continued to study her choice of names. She finally settled on two, a girl and a boy — Trinna, 20, and Daniel, 17.

All of the names on the cards belonged to Boone County children in foster care. Every foster parent in the county was able to submit a card for a child, said Karen Anderson, vice president of Boone County's foster and adoptive parent support group.

“They are children who usually have suffered some sort of abuse or neglect by their caregivers," she said. "Or they're children who have no one to care for them for one reason or another."

Cards for about 200 children were initially available, with ages ranging from newborn to 21. Although Trinna and Daniel were the names written on Boggs' cards, the Boone County Department of Child Services had substituted them for the children's real names.

Any interested donor could pick a name from the tree, which stood outside JC Penney in the Columbia Mall from Nov. 21 to Dec. 11. The donors were then obligated to purchase gifts for the children.

Each child had a list of wishes attached to the card, both wants and needs, plus basic information about age and clothing sizes.

“What we want to get across to people is that these are actual children and their actual wish lists," Anderson said. "It is not a generic program.”

This was the first year for Boggs to pull names from the tree. Events in her life had altered her priorities, she said, and she decided to act.

"I'm trying to do something good for the world because there's too much bad," she said. "We're all here to help each other." 

On Dec. 10, Boggs set out to do her shopping.

She held the cards tightly in her hands for most of the trip and barely seemed to notice the crowds at the mall. She had a list of items to purchase, and she was not to be distracted.

She also had the help of her two children, a son, 19, and a daughter, 25. 

"Really the reason I picked one boy and one girl is because I have that helping me," Boggs said.

She began the shopping trip planning to spend an equal amount of money on each child. First, she addressed Trinna's needs list. Trinna was asking for a winter coat.

At Penney's, Boggs walked down the aisles, checking the racks and asking her children to help select a coat, preferably in Trinna's favorite color — bright green. 

They wedged their way through the tightly packed rings of clothing and closely examined a number of coats in their search. A down coat seemed to have potential, but it was eventually set aside in favor of a pea coat in greenish-blue wool.

The problem was the cost: $69.99.

"That's a huge expense, so what do we do about a want?" Boggs asked her children.

They huddled to figure out how to balance the price of the needed coat with Trinna's wishes.

"I guess we need a 'big,' so what do we do about a big item?" Boggs asked. "Should it maybe be the coat?"

They settled on the coat as the only needs gift for Trinna, then headed to Target where Boggs purchased a blue shirt, gloves, socks and long underwear from Daniel's needs list. 

It was time to tackle the wish lists.

Trinna had three items on hers: high heels, a "Dance Dance Revolution 3" video game and an MP3 player.

Boggs knew that Target did not have Trinna's shoe size, so the family set out for the electronics department to look for the MP3 player. Daniel also had a video game on his wish list, but the Boggs children strongly objected. They wanted to buy him a book instead.

Boggs tried to reason with her children, and at one point she did move away from electronics to the book section to discuss options. But she remained committed to her belief that their job was to fulfill the children's wishes.

"You guys, we're his Christmas," she told them.

In the end, she bought both a Batman video and a book for Daniel, even though he didn't ask for one. She also purchased the MP3 player for Trinna and a "Glee" music CD for the player.

After spending $146.84 at Target and $69.99 plus tax at Penney's, Boggs called it a day.

Her gifts have already been distributed to the children, but when they open them is up to the foster families. In fact, by the end of the shopping period, every foster child whose name was on the tree had received a set of presents, Anderson said.

“We try to make sure everybody has gifts for Christmas,” she said.


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