“Can I keep this bow from my present?” Everything seemed magical to this little boy, part of a group of children gathered Thursday evening for a Bright Christmas, hosted by First Christian Church. Pastor Mark Lyon, in a sparkly Rudolph sweater, welcomed guests, including St. Nick, who was there to help celebrate and make each child feel special. 

The seeds for Bright Christmas were planted in 2014 when local resident Jerry Bright challenged his Facebook friends to contribute $25 to help a few families who were struggling to provide gifts for their children’s Christmas. The response exceeded anything Bright could have imagined. One Texas man, a former Independence resident, had been following Bright’s story, and made two generous donations. Excited and a bit overwhelmed, Bright contacted April Nutt. The two crossed paths frequently as board members of several organizations. 

“Without April Nutt, I could never put this all together,” emphasized Bright. It was Nutt who dubbed the project “Bright Christmas,” which Bright reluctantly agrees captures the project’s intent. Nutt considers Jerry Bright to be a true friend of the community, who selflessly dedicates his time and talents to help others. Nutt publicly thanked those who helped make Bright Christmas possible this year.

The goal of Bright Christmas is to provide three gifts, one a clothing item, for each child on a list compiled by Melinda Miller, case manager with the Independence school district. Miller gathers wishes and sizes from parents and volunteer shoppers and the elves from Epsilon Sigma Alpha, Beta Rho chapter, make sure all packages are wrapped and ready. Ethel Landis, Danielle Macy and Shirley Smith of First Christian Church’s Open Arms ministry, prepared a communal meal for everyone to enjoy.

Chris Mitchell of Community Access Center, brought his guitar and led the group in singing traditional Christmas carols, with special guest Jürgen Hanke, who sang a few songs in his native German.

Once everyone had a chance to meet Santa and finish their dinner, there was a mad scramble to see what was inside those packages. Little Hailyn carefully tore open a gift with the help of her father, Jeffrey. He expressed gratitude and relief that Bright Christmas could provide for Hailyn and her siblings. He had missed the deadline to sign up for the Park and Zoo Christmas event and wasn’t sure how he could buy gifts for all of his children.

This was the third Bright Christmas for Pam Henderson and her children, Tripp and Trinity. “Life has its hardships,” Henderson reflected. “It’s awesome they can do this for families.” Henderson has been through hard times, with her family surviving traumatic circumstances.  “It’s one day at a time, one foot in front of the other now. I hope this is our last year (for Bright Christmas). Next year, I want to be here to help other families.” The Hendersons currently live with her parents in a two-bedroom home. “It’s a real struggle,” teases Tripp, with a big grin. While he is gregarious, sister Trinity is a little bit slower to warm up. Both are students at the middle school where Tripp tackles advanced math class and sixth grader Trinity enjoys taking the stairs to her different classes. 

There is no guarantee of a Bright Christmas next year, according to Bright. The event was canceled in 2016, due to lack of funds. Contributions toward Bright Christmas for 2019 are accepted all year. Checks may be made out to Community Foundation for Independence, P.O. Box 1003, Independence, KS, 67301.