Superwoman did it all by her lonesome.
Nearly 300 kids in foster care in Lake and Sumter counties had Christmas because of Karen Stover.
Karen, a foster mother for more than 200 children since 1985, used to start in January — just as she finished the previous year — to set up her sponsors and schedule fundraisers for the coming holidays.
As the year progressed, Karen drew from her memory dozens of sponsors of "angel trees" containing the names of hundreds of foster children in the system at the holidays. She relied heavily on the generosity of folks in The Villages and the A.B.A.T.E. motorcycle group but also on many other kind
She collected the names of each child and his or her wishes, then wrote them on the paper angels and distributed them. Later, with trucks and trailers, she went back to pick up the donations.
Karen put in countless 15-hour days before Christmas, bagging toys and matching them to the right foster parents and kids.
Now, however, Karen is gone. Her heart gave out in April while doctors were preparing to do exploratory surgery. The Howey-in-the-Hills woman was only 61.
Though Karen has passed away, some 275 foster children whose parents have either abandoned, neglected or abused them will still be looking forward to Christmas, trusting that someone will care enough.
Enter Bridgett Brown.
While Karen was a powerhouse of energy, she was not a record-keeper. Other than The Villages and the motorcyclists, Brown and her crew don't know what groups or individuals sponsored the children. A few have contacted Karen's husband, but most are probably waiting for their annual call.
Are you one of Stover's personal angels? Can you help?
"We know there are sponsors out there, but we don't know who to contact. I guess she had everything memorized and never wrote it down," said Brown, 44, the mother of two of her own children, five adopted foster children and one foster child.
Meanwhile, Bridgett is getting the program under way, trusting that sponsors will be found and the whole thing will come together.
She's asked for six wishes from each foster child, and she has the lists in hand. The goal is to fulfill at least three of the wishes for each kid.
And what do foster children want this year? Sadly, many of the requests are needs rather than wants.
The boys, she said, have been consistently asking for socks and shirts; the girls, hair products and glittery accessories. The teens typically want gift cards so they can shop for themselves. You know how embarrassing it can get when grownups try to shop. Yich.
The request that touched Bridgett most deeply came from a child who didn't have six wishes — only one. The request was for a pair of flip-flops.
"If we see that a child didn't get three of their wishes, we go out and purchase for them," Bridgett said.
The idea isn't to shower kids with cheap junk. It is to send the message that despite their unfortunate circumstances, they are "special and loved" by a community that cares for them.
If you or your organization helped Karen by sponsoring angel trees, Bridgett asks that you contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on her home phone at 352-394-3689.
If you've never sponsored but would like even one child, go ahead and contact her. Folks who would rather donate cash to fulfill wishes that aren't met by gifts may send checks to the Foster Parents Association of Lake and Sumter, 7704
"Karen was an awesome person," Bridgett said. "It's taking a lot of people to step into her shoes."