Gahanna church to provide gift cards to Ohio foster teens for holidays – The Columbus Dispatch

Members of One Church make donations Saturday evening during the kick off for the church's annual gift card drive at its Gahanna church for Ohio teens in foster care.

Rachel Tilson had only been a member of One Church in Gahanna for three short months in 2019 when the congregation set out to raise donations in order to provide gift cards to Franklin County teenagers in foster care.

Though she was still a relative newcomer, Tilson, 30, didn’t hesitate to jump in to help.

After making her own donations, she sought donations from friends and family willing to contribute either gift cards themselves, or the money that would allow her to go out and purchase them. Tilson also joined other church members by volunteering at booths at the church when the gift cards were dropped off for distribution to Franklin County Children Services.

Just as it has for other congregation members, Tilson’s involvement with the gift card drive has become an annual tradition.

“The experience has been incredible; it’s been so fun. With the church it’s all hands-on deck,” said Tilson, who lives in New Albany. “The joy on people’s faces when they drop off, we’d have people coming in with 50 bags filled with gift cards.”

And though Tilson didn’t know it at the time, the charitable endeavor would become One Church’s defining annual initiative that, three years later, continues to expand its reach across the state.

In the inaugural drive, One Church surpassed its expectations, raising enough donations to provide every one of the 775 Franklin County teenagers in foster care that year with three $25 gift cards each, said Dionna Carter, the church’s director of outreach.

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“It was just so unexpected because we weren’t sure what the response was going to be,” Carter said. “We just honestly never anticipated it would get to this level.”

In the years since, One Church — which Carter said has about 3,200 weekly attendees in person and online — has expanded its reach across Ohio, partnering with businesses, churches and social service agencies to both solicit and distribute donated $25 gift cards to teenagers in foster care.

As the drive enters its fourth year, Carter said One Church has raised a total of $635,000 worth of gift cards for more than 10,000 teenagers.

After providing $274,012 in gift cards to 4,361 teenagers last year, church leaders anticipate that this year they will reach even more. With the foster care system strained as Ohio families struggle with economic hardship and youths who have been the victims of abuse, Carter said the need this year is greater than ever as One Church seeks to provide at least two $25 gift cards to each of the about 6,400 teens across the state.

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“It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time this is such a small but tangible way to remind them they’re loved, they’re seen, they’re not forgotten and their whole community is behind them,” Carter said.

After kicking off on Nov. 12, the donation drive will officially end Dec. 4 so that One Church volunteers have time to ensure the $25 gift cards can be distributed to Ohio teens by Christmas, Carter said.

One Church kicked off its annual gift card drive on Saturday at its Gahanna church for Ohio teens in foster care.

The premise for the gift card drive came about after leaders at One Church approached Franklin County Children Services in 2019 to ask what sort of charitable endeavor they could undertake that would be the most beneficial to the youth they serve, Carter said. What they heard, Carter said, is that while toy drives are common for younger children in need around Christmas, teenagers are too often overlooked.

“It almost didn’t even cross our minds — if you’re 15 or 16 you don’t care about a Barbie, you don’t want a toy truck,” Carter said. “It gives them that autonomy; they’re growing up and they want their independence, and they can choose when and how they spend this gift card.”

Though the drive has long expanded outside the borders of Franklin County, a total of 650 teens in the county received gift cards last year to places such as Amazon, Target, and Raising Canes (One Church prefers that donated gift cards are for businesses that have an online presence in case there are no brick-and-mortar stores near the teenagers who receive them.)

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This year in Franklin County there are 1,069 kids in foster care, 502 of whom are ages 13 to 18, said Kaitlin Kennison, a caseworker at Franklin County Children Services.

The youth in foster care often face a harsh reality that they may be alone for the holidays, and that Christmas presents from loved ones may be few and far between. Teenagers in foster care in Franklin County are able to list their top three choices for a gift card to ensure the best chance of receiving one to a place where they like to shop, Kennison said.

“Our kiddos, who are in really hard seasons of their life, who don’t have anything of their own and might think no one cares about them — when you show up with a couple of those gift cards that are specific to them, it means even more,” Kennison said. “When I do deliver those gift cards, it’s ‘Oh my gosh, she really listened,’ or ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t have to share that with anyone.’”

It’s that sort of love and comfort that One Church members such as Tilson seek to provide, even if they don’t personally know anyone in foster care.

“It is a very joyful mission that we get to be part of,” Tilson said. “Because One Church said this is important to us, this is important to God, all the teens in Ohio are now part of our family and part of our responsibility.”

To donate to One Church’s gift card drive for Ohio teens in foster care, visit to find an online donation link and an Amazon wish list. Gift card donations can be dropped off or mailed to 817 N Hamilton Road, Gahanna, OH 43230.

Eric Lagatta is a reporter at the Columbus Dispatch covering social justice issues and nonprofits.


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