Girl helps foster children
BELLE VERNON - Many people forget children in the foster care program during the holiday season.
They are kids who long for a place to call home, a warm smile in the morning and a cozy hug before going to bed at night.
While the Christmas holiday is all about fun for most children, it can be an especially empty time for those in foster care.
Madison Long did not forget foster kids this year.
Madison, 10, is a fifth-grader at Marion Elementary School, and she has a reason for thinking about foster care children.
She was one, herself.
Madison came to live with Mike and Kim Long, of Belle Vernon, at age 3.
The Longs fell in love with the little girl and adopted her when she was 6.
"It was a long three years," said Kim. "But it was worth it."
Recently, Madison read a copy of Chicken Soup for the Pre-Teen Soul, which was given to her by her mother.
The publication featured a story titled "Trash Bags are for Trash," written by a girl who was in the foster care system.
Foster children usually receive trash bags in which to place their belongings upon being placed with a new family.
"The girl who wrote the story felt that foster children should not have to put their belongings in a trash bag," Kim long said. "So she started a program in which she collected suitcases to give to foster children.
"The program eventually grew into a foundation."
Madison was moved by the story and said she wanted to do something for foster children.
"One thing she said she hated about foster care was that she didn't have her own coloring book, that she had to tear the picture pages out to color," Kim Long said.
So, Madison decided to gather a gift of coloring items. She put together a letter and appealed to her neighbors, school, friends, basketball team ... anyone into which she came in contact.
She sought donated coloring books, crayons, pencils, pens, colored pens and anything else that could be used to color pictures.
"I wanted to do something for kids for Christmas," Madison said. "They don't get many Christmas presents and I wanted them to have a better Christmas.
"When I started, I hoped I would get enough for 100 bags. I was surprised at how much stuff I got."
Donations rolled in quickly.
"We had bags of stuff being dropped off on our porch from people we don't even know," said Kim Long, a teacher in the Ringgold School District.
"We just kept getting more and more. It was an overwhelming response."
All told, Madison collected enough items to put fill more than 220 bags for foster children.
The gift bags were taken to the North Lexington Children, Youth and Family Office, a foster care facility near Wilkinsburg.
Madison's effort was so impressive that Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato presented her with a humanitarian award for her selfless effort.
"She wasn't really fazed by it," Kim Long said with a smile.
"I think this was a very big deal for a 10-year-old. She undertook a huge project and made it a success. She came from the system and she decided to give back."
Madison and several friends met at the Longs residence and put filled the bags.
"It was like an assembly line," Kim Long said. "All those little kids worked so well together."
The following joined Madison on the "assembly line:" Kaylee Gilchrist, Caitlin Gelety, Natalie and Haley Bashada, Courtney and Ashley Seaman, Hailey Welsh, Sheldon Rainey and Madison's sister, Marissa.
Madison said she plans to undertake the project next year, but intends to start earlier.
"It was kind of a surprise to everybody," she said. "Next year, I will start earlier and try to get more things."
Madison Long may be only 10, but she has the heart of a kindly grandmother.
And because of that heart - and a little hard work - area foster children will have a brighter Christmas this year.