Foster families lack holiday stipends, Knoxville woman hosts toy drive to help

Holidays can be challenging for children in foster care.
Making A Difference: Knoxville woman hosts toy drive for kids in need
Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 5:31 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Holidays can be challenging for children in foster care, but one woman is helping make spirits bright. Since April, Tonya Riley and her wife Rebecca have welcomed two foster children into their home.

With Christmas around the corner, they are preparing to continue the tradition.

“We want it to be probably one of the best Christmases they’ve had,” Tonya Riley said.

The two try to save money each month for gifts. Chris Wilkinson with the Smoky Mountain Process and Legal Services said the holidays can be tough for foster parents.

“While the foster families are compensated, they don’t get any extra money at different times of the year,” she said. That’s why she’s setting up a toy drive to help out. This will be the third annual drive. Wilkinson is collecting toys, gift cards and attraction tickets to places like Dollywood for those in foster care.

“It was really important to us to try to do something to give back,” Chris Wilkinson said.

Tonya Riley’s children have a few things on their Christmas wish list this year but she wants the family to experience fun activities together. She also said her biggest goal was to see the joy of Christmas morning on their faces.

“We want to focus on doing memorable Christmas,” Tonya Riley said. “Both of them are squealers when they get excited, so I hope there’s lot of squealing going on.”

There are collection boxes outside businesses in Sevier and Knox counties until Dec. 9. The Patriot Store, The Made In USA Store, Escape Game Knoxville and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office lobby will be accepting gifts. Afterward, they will take the gifts to Camelot for about 50 kids.

If you are interested in donating, you can email Wilkinson at

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