By Thanh Truong, NBC News Correspondent
There are more than half a million children in the foster care system in the United States. In Georgia alone, there are 9,000 foster children—and certainly not enough parents willing or able to take them in.
But then you meet people like John and Polly Lewis from Decatur, Georgia.
"Age didn't slow us down a bit," says 83-year-old Polly. Her husband John is going on 89. They may be in their golden years, but the couple continues to care for children who are not their own. Over the span of nearly 40 years, John and Polly have been foster parents to more than 80 foster children.
"There was Rickie, Tony...uh, Scotty," recalls John. "Fatina, Jessica...," Polly adds. They'll be the first to tell you they have trouble remembering all 80 names. Most likely there are more names, but the records only date back to 1972.
Families First, a non-profit family service agency in Atlanta, has been helping connect abused, abandoned or neglected children with potential foster parents for decades. Kim Anderson, the organization's CEO, says people like John and Polly are extremely rare.
"My guess is—and this is truly a guess—the average foster parents foster between five and 20 children. But 80? That's unheard of. They are blessing. At a time many would've been thinking retirement, the Lewis' kept on giving," Anderson says.
The Lewis' say they started fostering children after they raised their own two children. Polly says when her kids left the house, it just felt like an awfully empty nest. She missed being a mom. At that time Polly was in her forties, John in his fifties.
"I wanted some children in the house to keep me alive, really," Polly says. "They make you feel younger and bring you happiness and joy."
One of those children was Tony Garrison. He was eight years old when he arrived at the Lewis household, after one of his previous foster parents died.
"It was 1992, and I was just crying and crying," Garrison recalls. Tony says that the crying continued until John Lewis brought him a gift, a squirt gun.
"It's like I went from being scared to being balled up in the corner to, like, Hey Mom, Hey Dad! That water gun for some reason relieved all the negative stress," he says.
Garrison stayed with John and Polly until he was 18, then went on to college and now graduate school. It would be a serious understatement to say Polly was proud of her foster son, but Garrison doesn't make any distinction between foster parents and his "real" parents.
"The Lewis' are my only family, they've raised me, taken care of me, rewarded me when I did good, punished me when I did wrong. I can honestly say I'd be on the streets, maybe homeless, maybe even worse had I not been with them," said Garrison.
Families First honored Polly and John with a humanitarian award. On the night of the annual banquet, the Lewis' shared the stage with the couple whose real-life foster story inspired the movie, "The Blindside." A full house applauded the Lewis' as they accepted the award. But the couple says they already received their reward.
"That's the only reward I was looking for—helping somebody as I go through this life. Then my living won't be in vein," Polly says.
"Sometime I think about it—if the children weren't here, what would I have? What would I do? Well, I don't know," said John.
Nearly 40 years after they took in their first foster child, the Lewis' are still at it. They're now caring for two teen-aged girls. Back in the day, their foster children used to call the two "Pop" and "Big Mama." Now it's "Grandpa" and "Grandma."
"I feel great," Polly says. "I'm hoping I'll be doing this for another ten years."