MORRIS – In nine years the Mahaffeys, a military family, has moved five times and had one deployment to Iraq.
Marine Staff Sgt. Jake and Brooke Mahaffey’s daughters, second-grader Abigail and preschooler Emma, have become accustomed to moving and making new friends.
“We would love nothing more than to give them the Christmas they deserve as they have made so many sacrifices for our family and country,” Brooke wrote in her family’s application to Operation St. Nick’s 12 Days of Christmas Giving.
Their wish was granted when St. Nick paid off a loan for the family, who lives off Jake’s salary as a Marine recruiter in Morris.
“They took that bill out from under us and it allows us to be able to have a better Christmas for our kids,” Jake said.
“I was humbled and shocked, especially after Joe [Schmitz] told us how often they do this and the different families they have been able to help,” he said. Schmitz is president of Operation St. Nick.
The Mahaffey family’s Christmas wish was granted along those of 13 other families through the 12 Days of Christmas Giving program sponsored by Operation St. Nick and the Morris Daily Herald. This is the third year for the program that assists local military families in need during the Christmas season.
“It’s going to be a great Christmas morning to look out, have coffee and think of the Christmas morning these families are having that they probably wouldn’t have had if it were not for the community’s generosity,” said Schmitz.
Operation St. Nick is a nonprofit organization that works to help Grundy County families in need throughout the year with programs for Christmas, back to school, for veterans and more.
For the 12 Days of Christmas Giving program, applicants could get a wish of up to $2,500 granted. The family had to be a military family and residents of Grundy County. A family member must have been currently serving in the military or have been honorably discharged, Schmitz said.
Annually, 12 families are helped, but this year a total of 14 were granted Christmas wishes. In its three years, the program has gone up about $500 each year in spending on each family as the budget has grown for the program.
“We spent a little over $30,000, which was our goal and why we took on two more families,” Schmitz said.
St. Nick has numerous fundraisers to raise money for its programs – including the one it is most known for, its Christmas program supplying gifts and Christmas meals for low-income Grundy County families. With that program, 53 families were served with more than 150 children this year. Its largest fundraiser annually is the Operation St. Nick radio auction.
This year St. Nick did wishes such as fixing a family car, paying off medical bills and buying dream toys and items for children of all ages.
“This is my favorite program,” Schmitz said. “I like all six of our programs, they all have different meanings. ... But I work much closer with this one and it’s been a beautiful experience the last few years for my wife and I to sit down with these families and talk to them.
“They are always so grateful and they have brought a lot of tears to my eyes.”
For Army veteran Bethany of Morris, she was hoping to give her newly “blended family” a Christmas to remember. Her fiance lost his job last year and she quit college in order to find a job to help make up the difference. But with the help of St. Nick they are able to provide their eight children with a real Christmas.
“I can’t even describe what it means to know our kids are going to have a good Christmas this year,” she said.
“I can’t believe there is an organization that is willing to do this,” Bethany said.
For the Papach family, it has been a tough couple of years. Navy veteran Jesse Papach has had a hard time working after being disabled from a motor vehicle accident that occurred while he was serving, and then last month his home in Diamond received damage from the Nov. 17 tornado.
Luckily, the family was not home when the tornado struck their neighborhood, but their house received roof and siding damage, and their fence was blown away. His roof and fence already have been replaced and the siding work will begin in the spring.
But being unemployed on top of these expenses is making the holiday tough for him and his three children. To help, St. Nick purchased toys, clothes and electronics for his children ages 4 to 18.
“We didn’t have much of a Christmas last year because I was unemployed so this is really a blessing for us,” he said.