Cove neighborhood residents “Elf” each other
By LYNETTE SOWELL
One family’s effort to spread holiday cheer around their Copperas Cove neighborhood has its roots in a grim topic, facing cancer at Christmas time.
Diana Llanez and her family moved to Copperas Cove in August of 2017 and the family considered it a fresh start.
Llanez said her daughter, Kaitlyn, now 14, was first diagnosed with cancer on Dec. 2, 2011, and from that point on, the Christmas holiday had been difficult for them.
“We had just moved to El Paso and my husband had just been deployed, so it was a pretty rough time for us,” Llanez said.
Thankfully, after 10 surgeries, one of which included removal of a kidney, and multiple cancer treatments, Kaitlyn, received her remission diagnosis in March 2017.
“She wished we could do something to spread Christmas cheer and get other memories beside what we had. We thought it would be nice to give to other people, so we thought of doing a gift basket exchange. One of her favorite movies is Elf, and one of the favorite lines is, to spread Christmas cheer for all to hear.”
Llanez said they didn’t know anyone in the House Creek neighborhood and wasn’t sure how people would respond, but she posted on the House Creek Facebook page about the Elf’ed project.
Families who wanted to participate would fill out a form with their names, address, ages of children, and any particular likes or wishes or food allergies, in order to personalize the baskets.
Llanez then selected who would receive an Elf’ed basket, and found there was so much interest the first year, she had to open it back up. The process is anonymous, with the Llanezes being the only ones who know which family receives the baskets and also personally delivering the gifts.
This year, Llanez said 56 families participated, with a total of 298 family members.
“I didn’t give families someone on the same street as them, but I tried to match up the same number of people in the family. If they only had girls, I tried to give them boys, to give them something different to do,” Llanez said. “One woman said she didn’t have any girls and she was so excited to shop for a little girl. And, we even included the pets.”
After participants prepared their Elf’ed baskets, they would arrange with Llanez for pickup and drop-off of the baskets.
“We had so much fun delivering and picking up gifts. It gave us a chance to meet to other people,” Llanez said. “They are giving our family so much more than they are giving each other. It’s also the adults who are excited, when we are knocking on the door.”
Ruth Gulnac and her family received a basket and participated in Elf’ed this year.
“I believe it’s a wonderful feeling, having a community that comes together to do for one another, especially when you don’t know one another,” said Gulnac. “The thing I loved most was learning about a new family and being able to bring joy to them plus seeing the joy on my family’s face when we also received a basket was priceless. They were so excited. Overall, it was a wonderful experience and we will be participating for the next years to come.”
Sarah Japalucci lives in House Creek North has three children ages 11, 10, and two years, and this is the family’s second year participating in the Elf’ed project.
“We enjoy doing it for multiple reason, but the most important is it helps us teach our children that giving can be just as fun as receiving and to love their neighbors,” Japalucci said. “We participate because we want to be part of the solution in our neighborhood of spreading kindness. Oh, and it is fun to wait to get Elf'ed. We love looking at all the pictures.”
The Japaluccis’ Elf’ed basket contained something for each of the children, along with a gift for the adults – a bottle of sparkling cider and a bottle of wine.
The Elf’ed project has spread beyond Copperas Cove, Llanez said, with one former resident taking the idea with her to Maine.
There are a lot of people going through hardship, people who lost family members, people who wouldn’t have received anything else. It puts things in perspective.
This Christmas time, the Llanez family found themselves taking Kaitlyn for more medical appointments, and Llanez said another woman from the neighborhood stepped up to help her.
“Georgia Martin helped me complete it his year, and I couldn’t have finished it without her.”