By Pamela Dozois

Contributing Writer

 The annual Los Alamos Christmas tree lighting event took on greater dimensions this year with the addition of a Christmas giving program, “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

 In spring of 2018, a committee of Shirley Williams, Gloria Diffenderfer, Suzanne Tosti and Laura Beax asked the Los Alamos Valley Men’s Club to start a Christmas program for Los Alamos families in need. The board members voted and initially donated $1,000.

“I’ve been wanting to do this project for a few years now. My vision was to have a Unity Shoppe-type Christmas event where people in need had the opportunity to acquire gifts for their families for Christmas,” said Williams, a Men’s Club board member.

Photo by Jeffrey Bloom Photography
The Senior Center was festively decorated with an array of gifts under the Christmas tree.

“We started early and planned on helping an estimated 15 needy families. We took nominations from the local school and people who knew people that needed help, and the list rapidly grew to 33 families, including seniors. We went back to the Los Alamos Valley Men’s Club with our list of families and they generously gifted us with another $1,000,” she added.

Kathy Christoferson, vice president of the Los Alamos Senior Center, then got involved.

“We wanted to have the Senior Center available for the ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ Christmas program and the Men’s Club open for a community event. We also thought it would be a good place for kids on the nominated families list to play while their parents were picking up Christmas gifts at the Senior Center,” said Williams.

Each of the nominated families was asked to fill out a “wish list” of what they wanted for their families. There were no names, just a number at the top of each list. The parents were then given that number so they could pick up their gifts at the Senior Center on the day of the party.

The Ladies of Los Alamos (LOLA), members of the Los Alamos Valley Men’s Club and other volunteers each adopted a family, becoming their Secret Santa.

“We met the first week of October to pull things together,” said Williams. “This community is truly unbelievable. The Secret Santas bought nearly everything that was on each of the wish lists. We also had a toy drive at the same time. Then Los Alamos residents started sending monetary donation to help with the event, which allowed us to give gift certificates to each of the families to shop for food at Walmart for their Christmas dinner. It was truly amazing to see the overwhelming generosity of our little community.

“The day of the event was more than I ever expected,” she added. “It all worked out perfectly. We were all on the same page. We all wanted everyone in our community to have a happy, bountiful Christmas, and none of it could have been accomplished without the help of the community.”

The Men’s Club was beautifully decorated, thanks to the efforts of many volunteers. Tables were filled with Christmas cookies donated by Decadence Bakery in Buellton along with goodies made by local residents. There was a Hot Cocoa Bar, and little gift bags with candy and little trinkets were handed out to each child. There was also a photo booth to commemorate the day. Santa’s Helper, Louie Magdaleno, helped with the festivities.

The event was open to all the children of the community and their parents. With the children busy at play at the Men’s Club, parents were able to sneak out to the Senior Center and pick up the gifts.

Upon entering, each family signed in under their individual number and received a gift certificate. They then received all the gifts on their Secret Santa wish list and could then visit the tables brimming with toys and clothing, donated by the community, picking out one gift for each child. The gifts were then brought to the wrapping station where volunteers wrapped each gift.

“They were told to tell their children that these gifts were from them, not the Senior Center,” said Christoferson.

“It was wonderful to see the absolute joy and wonder on the faces of the parents when they saw all the presents under the beautifully decorated Christmas tree at the Senior Center,” said Christoferson. “They couldn’t stop thanking us. It was a wonderful experience. Bringing joy to people is the greatest gift.”

“It was heartwarming to see how many of the families, after secretly taking home all the gifts, returned to help with the activities at the Men’s Club and stayed to help with the clean-up afterwards,” said Williams. “Not only did we help them, but they then helped us.”

Later in the evening numerous Valley residents and visitors joined in the Christmas tree lighting event. Santa arrived and Joe Dana, principal of Olga Reed School, officiated over the tree lighting. The Olga Reed School and Orcutt Academy Choir sang traditional Christmas carols ushering in the season. The Vineyard Voices, an a cappella harmony quartet consisting of Anne and Rich Gamble, Robb Manchester and Allison Reitz, entertained guests singing Christmas carols at various local restaurants.

“The ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ event was brand new this year and we have already been contacted by foundations offering matching grants for next year,” said Williams.

“There’s a lot of love in this community,” she added. “What I like most is that everyone contributes for the right reason – love of neighbor … It was a blessing to those in need in our little town and to the town itself. … A special thank you goes to both Kathy Christoferson and Sheryl Wood, president of the Senior Center, and to all those who made this event a huge success.

“In the end, we couldn’t have done any of this without the support and generosity of the community. People were so generous. It was just incredible.”