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Busy time for Mary Graham
Stockton non-profit provides children support, shelter
209-Mary-Graham-Hall-holidays
Amber Saunders, executive director of the Mary Graham Childrens Foundation, is gearing up for the holidays. Included are various gift drives to make this time of year special for the 1,400 foster care youngsters in San Joaquin County. - photo by VINCE REMBULAT

Royce Farms BBQ once again provided a generous donation to the Mary Graham Children’s Center.

First Student transportation services also chipped in to help the estimated 1,400 youngsters living in foster care in San Joaquin County, stuffing their bus with new toys and other items for the holidays.

All this took place during Thanksgiving with more on the way, according to Amber Saunders, the Mary Graham Children’s Foundation executive director for the past three years.

“Our busy time of the year is coming up,” she said, referring to Christmas holidays. “I’ll be here (at the Children’s Center) all the time – I very rarely go home.”

Saunders, who grew up in Manteca, has been an advocate for youngsters via the criminal justice system and family law system for over 10 years. That passion can be traced back to her days at East Union High, where she was involved in the JROTC’s Care Program.

So far, Saunders, who also has a Juris Doctorate degree from Laurence Drivon School of Law, apologized for her office being stuffed with brand new toys, books, and sporting goods, also received donations from Leprino Foods, Amazon, and Toys for Tots.

“We’re in partners with the United Ways of San Joaquin County, Second Harvest Food Bank, and we support other non profits,” she added.

The shelter is home to youngsters age 0 to 18. Many transition back and forth, from their foster care parents to the French Camp facilities. Once 18, they’re processed out of the foster care system.

The foundation can help out during that transition – notably, $830 per month to help out with transitional housing – as well as providing scholarships. Saunders said of the latter that 25 were helped out this way to go to college, with one recently graduating from the University of California, Berkeley.

“We do have our share of success stories,” she said.

Life, however, can be tough for those living in foster care, especially come the holidays. Families here are only afforded to provide the basics – food, clothing and shelter.

In some cases, youngsters have been known to act out at their foster homes, hoping to get back to the shelter where, according to Saunders, they know they’ll get something for Christmas.

The foundation is hoping to remedy that by pairing the youth with a social worker, who, in turn, can help make the holiday special with a wish-list gift.

“Last year was our first year of doing it,” Saunders said. “It worked out great.”

Among the wish-list items for teenagers include hygiene products, MP3 players and college sweaters, to name a few.

“Everything gets wrapped and placed under the tree,” said Saunders, describing Christmas day at the shelter.

Many also enjoy getting gift cards – movies, restaurants, or the retail stores – as stocking stuffers.

Gary Gunderson, who is director of the shelter, mentioned that the holidays are time for family. Unfortunately, the shelter is not a family-type place for many.

Enter the foundation, which is helped out by the generosity of businesses and the community in making a difference in the lives of these youngsters by “fostering hope, fulfilling dreams,” according to the motto.

To make donation, call Saunders at 209.468.7635.