Santa’s helpers came to the Auburn/Opelika area early.
On Dec. 15, local foster and adoptive families turned out for a huge shopping spree at Santa’s Workshop, thanks to BigHouse, Alabama Power Auburn employees and community volunteers. The annual event is sponsored by BigHouse, an Opelika nonprofit that brings hope and provides support to foster children and their families.
Parents got the chance to shop for the perfect gifts for their children, free of charge, while in another room of the workshop, the kids selected gifts for their moms, dads and siblings. Volunteers were on hand to help kids tag and wrap their gifts.
“Our Santa’s Workshop is really fun, and it’s one of our favorite events of the whole year,” said Micah Melnick, founder and executive director of BigHouse. “It’s really special for the kids because they finally have the joy of being the giver. They are so excited that they can’t wait for their parents to open their gifts.”
The Alabama Power Service Organization Auburn subchapter helped with Santa’s Workshop for the third consecutive year. The chapter, led by Jessica Mitchell, Alabama Power customer service representative in the Auburn Office and a devoted BigHouse volunteer, collected toys, clothing and money for the workshop.
In addition, 10 Alabama Power Auburn Office and Engineering employees spent an afternoon sorting, assembling and organizing toys, and setting up tables for the event.
“It is always a joy to see the love these families have for one another,” Mitchell said. “To see the parents shopping for their foster-adopted children, as well as their biological children, is a sweet moment of ‘I think so-and-so would love this!’ These parents love all their children unconditionally and it shows.”
“Watching the children shop for their parents and siblings is also a huge blessing,” Mitchell said. “For them to shop for their parents makes them feel extra special.”
This year, Mitchell experienced the joy of Santa’s Workshop on a new level. Through her work with BigHouse, Mitchell has become a foster mom. Last summer, she opened her home to Noah, an 11-year-old. Now, six months later, Mitchell’s family, including Noah, had the fun of shopping at Santa’s Workshop.
“When I was asked if I would take Noah, I was scared, nervous and excited, but, trusting God, I said yes,” said Mitchell, who has two other sons, Samuel, 12, and Joel, 6. “The first night my foster son was in my house, he looked at me and said, ‘Thank you for taking me.’ What a simple statement with profound impact.”
Mitchell said meeting foster families while volunteering at BigHouse’s monthly Kids Night Out events opened her eyes to the needs of the children.
“Every child deserves to feel wanted, safe and loved,” Mitchell said. “What if, God forbid, these were my children in need of a safe place to go. Many people have the misconception that foster kids are bad. These kids are not bad but simply in a bad situation through no fault of their own.”
Melnick and her husband, Blake, founded BigHouse in 2009 while they were still in college. Micah’s parents had fostered and later adopted a child. Her parents’ experience led Micah to want to do more for children who are often overlooked by society.
Today, BigHouse serves more than 12,000 children in Alabama’s foster care system through its programs and events.
Mitchell said as soon as Noah moved into her home, BigHouse was there to offer a helping hand. A representative from BigHouse started by putting together a bag of necessities for Noah. The bag included a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, socks, underwear, pajamas and a stuffed animal to help make the transition easier.
The Mitchell family has networked with other foster parents and children through BigHouse programs such as Moms Meet Up. During the month of his birthday, Noah received a card from BigHouse letting him know that “someone cares” and inviting him to visit the organization’s birthday closet to pick out a toy or gift card.
“BigHouse has been a great source of knowledge, especially to those of us who are new to fostering,” Mitchell said. “They have been able to answer some of my questions, even the ones I didn’t know to ask. I would be lost without them.”
Carey Holland said Auburn employees look forward to working at Santa’s Workshop each year.
“I feel like it’s important that we give back during the holidays and support others,” said Holland, engineering supervisor, Auburn Crew Headquarters. “Volunteering at the workshop brings everybody in the office together as a group to do something special for someone else, and that’s important to me.”
Along with volunteering their time, Auburn employees donated about three dozen items, including bicycles, a mini trampoline, board games, puzzles, coloring books, toy trucks and cars, and clothing.
Micah said she appreciates Alabama Power employees for reaching out to BigHouse.
“We’ve had a great partnership with Alabama Power over the past few years,” she said. “When we have organizations like Alabama Power that are willing not only to donate toys and money but also provide manpower, it’s so helpful to us. We depend so heavily on our local community because we don’t have enough manpower here to do everything.”
Mitchell said the shopping trip was an unforgettable experience for her foster son.
“Noah enjoyed shopping for me, my boys and his biological mom,” she said. “He couldn’t wait to call her to let her know he had her something to unwrap at Christmas. This event was much more than Christmas gifts for him. It was a time to enjoy the company of other people who know what you are going through.”