Monday, June 17, 2019
Seven-Year-Old Challenges Secret Santas
Jeanne Mowlds played hostess with the mostest, making sure no one left hungry.
Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Johnny couldn’t hold a job because he was coming to work with holes in his shirt.

He couldn’t help it—he didn’t have another. And he was a big boy so there weren’t any shirts that fit him at the local thrift stores.

Johnny’s teacher, who taught him in a class on adult living, took him shopping in Twin Falls and gave him a set of new clothes wrapped in brown paper.  And the boy was so touched he asked if he could keep the paper, said Kristy Heitzman, who heads up the Blaine County Education Foundation.

Debi Gutknecht tells the story of a homeless boy without a good shirt to call his own as Kristy Heitzman and Sharon Bockemohle look on

Johnny is one of 72 students in the Blaine County School District who are homeless. They represent 30 homeless families—many of whom lost their homes in the past couple months and are living with friends and family, said Debi Gutknecht, student services director for the Blaine County School District. 

“This can be difficult at holiday time when school is out for two and a half weeks, and they’re living in someone else’s home while their parents are working,” said Heitzman. “And there’s little money to provide them clothing and gifts at Christmas.”

Some 80 Secret Santas crowded into John and Gina Wolcott’s Indian Creek home would have none of that.

They nibbled on clam puffs and cream puffs. And, in between bites of Ben Frank's multi-layered chocolate cake, raspberry tarts and artichoke dip and sips of champagne that had been cooled in the snow, they fed a glass vase with $20 bills and checks destined for the Blaine County Education Foundation.

Kat Vanden Heuvel shares how her 7-year-old son ”with a very big heart” contributed some of the savings in his piggy bank to the Secret Santa Fund.

“This is having such a positive impact—think of the lives that will be changed,” said Secret Santa Party Founder Marie Gallo.

Kat Vanden Heuvel, who was on the organizing committee, recounted how she had explained to her 7-year-old son Tripp that she couldn’t take him to hockey practice that afternoon because she was going to a party.

But it’s not a normal party, she told him, explaining how it was raising money to make a wonderful Christmas for kids who might otherwise not get the things they need because they’re homeless.

“I explained to him what it means to be homeless. And he went to his room and came back and said, ‘I want to give you some of my money, too,’ ” she added. “So I have $2 from a 7-year-old—and that’s your challenge!”

The Secret Santa Committee featured Leslie Silva, Jeanne Mowlds, Kat Vanden Heuvel, Melinda Springs, Terri LeFaivre, Charlotta Harris, Terri Bullock , Judy Cahill and, Jane Williams. Not pictured: Marie Gallo, Dede Huish, Lisa Leach, Mardi Shepard, Joyce Fabre, Peggy Grove, Kathleen Eder and Penny Weiss.

The Secret Santa Party was started four years ago by Gallo, who used the money contributed by attendees to pay off layaways for unsuspecting families at King’s variety store.  Gallo sweetened the fund with the penny poker winnings of her friends—anyone who played games at her house soon learned they never took their winnings home.

When King’s closed, she and a couple friends shopped around for a new cause and found it in the Blaine County Education Foundation. So last year they contributed half the money they raised to the foundation to make Christmas brighter for homeless students. They contributed the other half to the Sun Valley Realtors, who give out holiday baskets of food and toys to those having trouble stretching their dollars.

Gutknecht said the school district identified three children who were considered homeless when she became student services director 10 years ago. That increased to 56 of the 3,400 students in the district last year and 72 this year.

The school district makes sure every student who is identified as homeless receives a free breakfast and lunch. And the Blaine County Education Foundation’ Can-Do fund provides them with things like tennis shoes for gym and yearbooks so they don’t miss out on some of the things most students take for granted, said Kristy Heitzman, who heads up the Blaine County Education Foundation.

No fancy hats were required at the affair, as they are at the Harriman Tea. But Judy Cahill came topped for the holidays, anyway.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well,” Gutknecht noted.

I thank all of you for having compassion, for living well,” she added.

By the end of the two-hour party the Secret Santa jar was stuffed with $6,400.

“It’s snowing money right now,” Vanden Heuvel told the women. “I think some children are going to have some very merry Christmases, Hanukkahs and Kwanzas, thanks to you.”


~  Today's Topics ~

Ketch’em Alive Even Catching the Kids Now

Bicycle Stunt Man to Headline Summer Solstice Bash

Street Party for the Planet Offers Snazzy Door Prizes










Advertising /Marketing /Public Relations
Inquiries Contact:

Leisa Hollister
Director of Marketing
(208) 450-9993
The largest online daily news media service in the Wood River Valley. We are the community leader, publishing 7 days a week. Our publication features current news articles, feature stories, local sports articles/video content articles and the Eye On Sun Valley show 6 days a week on COX Channel 13. See our Kiosks around the Wood River Valley!
P: 208.720.8212
P.O. Box 1453, Ketchum, ID  83340

© Copyright 2019 Eye on Sun Valley