Local chef gives gifts through nonprofit Secret Santa program

A local chef is providing gifts to dozens of families through a nonprofit’s Secret Santa program.

The Holiday Farm Fire left many families without a home and some without a place to put a Christmas tree – or even gifts to fill beneath it.

Local nonprofit Love First, which provides care to those impacted by wildfires in the state, received multiple requests for Christmas gifts, so they created a Secret Santa program, asking the community to sponsor families in need.

Local Chef Becky McConnell first learned about Love First while catering meals for families displaced by the fire back in September.

When she once again realized the need, her acts of kindness went beyond sponsoring a family for Secret Santa.

“Now Christmas is here, and the children – some of them are still without homes,” said Chef Becky, “so I decided to sponsor some families on their website. I offered to shop for four families, and they sent me a family with a list of seven children.”

One family with seven children – on top of the growing list of more than 100 families sending in requests.

Adam Burner, the secretary of Love First, says it was overwhelming: “When the initial request came in, we were thinking just 20 or 30 families, and it just blew up.”

Not only was that overwhelming, but Chef Becky called to ask just how many families were still in need.

“How many children are left that don’t have sponsors yet,” asked Chef Becky, “and they said ‘47,’ and I said, ok, I’m going to take all of them.”

She sponsored the remaining 47 children still in need.

“The next morning, I started a fundraiser and raised about $5,000 in a week,” she said. “Through my clients that have known me for years and with all of that money and the help of a few volunteers, we spent $6,000 on gifts in a week.”

$6,000 worth of meaningful gifts filled her living room.

“The parents provided specific information about what their children like and dislike,” said Chef Becky, gesturing. “For this girl, I bought her pineapple socks a pineapple hoodie, and this is my favorite gift of all – pineapple string lights for her bedroom.”

With the help of friends and family, they loaded up all the gifts into a U-Haul and headed for Love First.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for children,” said Chef Becky. “Whenever there’s a special need that comes up involving children, I almost always say yes. So with a project like this, I just wanted to go all out and make it a magical Christmas for these kids.”

Love First and the sponsored families were left ecstatic.

“They come in and were like, ‘this is all for me?’” said Burner. “Grown men breaking down, dads were breaking down crying. The spirit of thankfulness was filling that building.”

Love First said they are still receiving thank yous from the sponsored families.

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