Lurie Foster has given 55 years of service to the citizens of Columbia as well as the entire state of South Carolina through the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. His constant smile and big heart are the source of happiness for mentally ill persons who are so often forgotten by society. Foster is Crafts-Farrow State Hospital’s first volunteer. He began his service many years before the Volunteer Services Office was even established. When he retired in 1981 after 37 years of service to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, Foster was acutely aware of the special needs of the mentally ill and had already begun his “volunteer career” that continues to expand to this day.
Foster started to volunteer during a time when stigma was very much a part of mental illness. He understood that this stigma resulted from a fear of the unknown and a set of false beliefs, stemming from a lack of awareness and understanding. As a volunteer, he was instrumental in dispelling some of the myths, false beliefs and discrimination against people who had been treated or were hospitalized in a mental institution because he understood that they were just like everybody else in that they deserved respect, dignity and love.
In 1948 Foster began organizing dances for residents at Craft-Farrow. Monthly, he would bring in a jukebox at his own expense for the Wednesday night dances. In addition, he assembled a quartet to sing in the auditorium to the patients on Sunday afternoons for spiritual enrichment. Foster, however, is best known as “Mr. Santa Claus.” For 50 years, from 1952 until 2002, he donned a Santa suit and spent the day delivering gifts and greeting each of the patients. Even his family understands that his special friends come first on this special day because many of them have no family and no one to visit them.
Foster’s volunteer work expanded to include work as a volunteer van driver for the Mental Health Association in Mid-Carolina, along with Crafts-Farrow State Hospital. He drove a van weekly to transport patients to a local church for social activities and then on to the grocery store for a special time of shopping. In addition, Foster took Community Boarding Home residents to physician appointments, shopping and furnished other transportation needs.
Although Foster has a special affinity for mentally ill persons, he does not limit his volunteer work to just those individuals. He is also an active member of Zion Canaan Baptist Church and is presently President of the Senior Usher Board and has served as President for the past 35 years.
Foster has been selected as the 1983 Volunteer of the Midlands, Crafts-Farrow Volunteer of the Year and South Carolina Department of Mental Health Volunteer of the Year in 1985. In 1986, Foster was also recognized as one of the “Four Coachman” who provided transportation for the mentally ill. He also received the Jefferson Award in 1993.