Jacksonville Nutrition and Fitness hosts drive for CASA kids | Local News

Jacksonville Nutrition and Fitness is hosting a blanket and stuffed animal drive to benefit the Jacksonville office of CASA.

CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, recruits, trains and mentors volunteers who advocate in court for abused and neglected children in the foster care system. CASA provides a new blanket and stuffed animal to each child referred to them. Volunteers advocate for the children’s best interest in court.

Maria Morales, owner of Jacksonville Nutrition and Fitness, opened her business about six months ago and is already giving back to the community through this drive.

“It’s the season of giving and I really wanted to give. My first thought was to do a toy drive,” Morales said.

However, when she contacted the Jacksonville Chamber for suggestions, CASA was named as a non-profit that could possibly use her assistance. Morales said she thought it was a great idea.

Becky Derrington, Case Supervisor at CASA of Trinity Valley’s Jacksonville office, said she welcomed the toys if that’s the drive Morales wanted to do, but informed her that all 105 children CASA currently represents were not in need of toys. The children’s wish lists, similar to the Children’s Christmas Tree program in Jacksonville, had been adopted and provided by volunteers.

“We do oftentimes take in stuffed animals and blankets for every new case that we get,” Derrington said she told Morales, who then opted to alter the drive.

Morales thought the Christmas season would be a good time for the drive as people were already out shopping for gifts and may be willing to pick up that one extra item to donate.

The business, located at 407 Frankston St./Hwy 175, will accept donations during regular business hours through Friday, Dec. 30.

While dropping off items, donors can try the healthy food options the business offers, including waffles and donuts. For the more active or those trying to get into shape, Jacksonville Nutrition and Fitness offer four workout classes a day for $7 each, no membership required.

“Thank you to Jacksonville Nutrition for benefiting CASA with a blanket and stuffed animal drive this month,” Derrington said.

Derrington also expressed gratitude to others this season.

“CASA also was able to get 105 Gingerbread children Christmas bought by the generous donations from our community. A special thank you to Neighbors coffee for putting up a tree at their place where the public could get children’s wishes to buy for,” she stated. “CASA of Trinity Valley in Cherokee County are extremely grateful for the outpouring of love and generosity shown to the children we are serving that are currently in the care of CPS.”

In addition to the Christmas gifts and the blankets currently being collected, CASA is always in search of volunteers. Individuals must be over 21 years of age and pass a background check to become volunteers. Training is provided. Volunteers average approximately 10-15 hours a month in visits, court hearings and other work, according to Derrington.

During 2022, volunteers gave 1,600 hours and drove over 24,500 miles, serving 184 children. Their efforts resulted in the permanent placement of 86 children. This could include either reunification with parents or placement in adoptive homes, according to Derrington.

“If you can spare 10 hours a month, you can help see a child find a forever home. It’s amazing.” Derrington said. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

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