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Foster kids get holiday wishes fulfilled

LAWRENCEVILLE - Local foster children are counting on generous Gwinnettians to play Santa this season and make their dreams come true.

KidsPeace, a nonprofit foster care center, has offered people a chance to give more than 40 foster children presents by setting up "angel trees" at five area restaurants. Each angel tree is decorated with paper ornaments listing a brief description of the child and his or her Christmas wishes.

"People have been incredibly generous," said Teri Long, general manager of Buffalo's restaurant off Braselton Highway. "Some of the firemen picked up angels who were interested in fire trucks and one fireman in particular wrote one boy a note and invited him out to the station." Someone even bought a bicycle for a child, even though he didn't ask for one, she said.

Although KidsPeace is a 123-year-old children's charity founded in Pennsylvania, its ministry has grown nationally and in Georgia alone there are more than 200 locations. The Lawrenceville center, which serves children requiring therapy or special medical monitoring, has been open two years and has jumped from serving 16 children to 41.

Peggy Mangan, KidsPeace Lawrenceville program manager, attributes the increase to the growing methamphetamine epidemic. Many children in their care have parents with drug abuse problems, she said.

Some kids have contact with their parents and are in KidsPeace temporarily, but others stay as long as two years, Mangan said. Regardless of the length of time the children spend with them, KidsPeace strives to give each child a Christmas gift.

"This year I can say every child will get everything they want on their wish list," Mangan said.

Donors like the customers and staff of Buffalo's restaurant made this year's success possible. Long said if any ornaments are not claimed by the end of December, the restaurant owner buys enough gifts to ensure each child has something to unwrap.

"You always hear about Christmas being commercialized, but I have seen nothing but people opening their hearts for these kids and it has truly been humbling."

Restaurants participating in this year's angel trees are: The Loafing Leprechaun off Sugarloaf Parkway, Joe's American Grill off Grayson Highway, Buffalo's Restaurant at Flowery Branch, Braselton Highway and the Mall of Georgia.