Community comes together to celebrate Christmas with CareSouth

Roaming the aisles of a toy store for three hours with a two-year-old and four-year-old, a week before Christmas, is every parent’s worst nightmare. But for Russell Vale’s Sam Francis, it was a proud mum moment.

Sam and her boys, Reuben, 4 and Eli, 2 were toy shopping for those less fortunate as part of a community donation drive Sam organised to ensure children and young people across CareSouth’s programs have a fun-filled Christmas.

The shopping expedition came about after Sam put a shout-out for toy donations on social media through her local Woonona and Wollongong community pages. Sam was overwhelmed by the generosity of Illawarra residents, who dropped off hundreds of toys, filling 36 boxes and the family garage.

Reuben and Eli also wanted to do their bit to help others at Christmas and used the money they had saved collecting cans to buy gifts for children and young people in CareSouth’s programs. Hence the trip to the shops, where the boys spent three hours carefully choosing the perfect presents to donate.

“I picked a transformer dinosaur and LEGO, and Eli picked a Paw Patrol car and ball magnets,” said Reuben with a grin.

“They chose toys they really wanted but were happy to give away to kids who needed them more,” said Sam. “When I left Kmart, I was crying. It was so beautiful to see them thinking about what other kids might want. I want to teach my boys that giving is so much better than receiving; you just get so much joy from it.”


Sam came up with the idea for the toy drive after volunteering with Hope in A Suitcase last Christmas; it was there that she heard about CareSouth foster carer Bec Kennedy. Bec and her husband have been carers with CareSouth for the past six years and, in that time, have had several children and young people arrive at their home at short notice with very few or no belongings.

“When kids come into care, quite often they come with nothing,” explains Bec. “And carers often have no notice and no time to prepare for all the things they might need.”

Hope in a Suitcase is a non-profit organisation run by volunteers who are passionate about showing every child in the foster care system that they are loved and valued by their community. The organisation provides children and young people with a suitcase filled with all the essentials for their first few days in a new home; pyjamas, underwear, clothes, books, games, toiletries (including sanitary items for older girls) and something to cuddle (for younger children).

“Rather than dashing off to the shops, this gives carers a few days to spend with the child or young person, helping them to settle in,” says Bec. “It also gives carers a little bit of time to plan what they need to buy, as sometimes kids come into a carers house very quickly, with little preparation.”

Clothing and toiletries for Hope in A Suitcase were among the hundreds of items donated this year, and these will be distributed to children and young people in foster care across the Illawarra.

As well as collecting donations for Hope in a Suitcase, Bec and her family have raised around $2000 to buy gifts for young people in CareSouth’s Supported Independent Living and Interim Care Model Homes. Most are teens, and the Kennedy family decided to raise funds independent of Hope in A Suitcase after recently taking in a teenager for emergency care.

“The young person stayed with us for several months, and we got an insight into the importance of celebrating them and their major milestones,” says Bec. “So, we decided to have a fundraising drive to buy gifts for the 18 young people who live in CareSouth’s houses.

“My husband works at Wollongong City Council and had a really long, white beard. So, he decided to shave it off for donations and raised around $1800. Our family donated the rest to make it an even $2000 to buy gifts for teens.”

CareSouth would like to give a big-hearted thank you to Sam and Bec, their families and the very generous Illawarra community who helped make Christmas that little bit brighter.

You can explore our website to learn more about CareSouth’s programs and the CareSouth Virtual Giving Tree