When Aaron and Melody Molen called a family meeting two years ago, they made a proposal to their three children.
Rather than spend money on Christmas presents that year, the Lake Tapps family would travel to Costa Rica and spend it on those in need instead.
“They were talking to us about maybe we could give them some presents and some food to help them, but (we) might only get one or two presents, but think about the people down there,” said 11-year-old Kaya Molen.
At first, the kids — Kaya, 8-year-old Lily and 5-year-old Sawyer — wanted to sleep on it.
“Which I thought was smart, because we could either have Christmas here and have a normal American Christmas where you probably get more gifts that you really need, or you can give those gifts to people who need them much more than we do,” said Aaron, 40.
The next day, the kids had decided — they wanted to spend Christmas in Costa Rica, helping others.
“We chose to give it to people in Costa Rica because I think it should be more important for other kids to have stuff because we should be grateful for what we have right now and not what we need,” Lily said.
We chose to give it to people in Costa Rica because I think it should be more important for other kids to have stuff because we should be grateful for what we have right now and not what we need.
Aaron and Melody have been married for 17 years and first met in Utah. Aaron’s father founded Molen Orthodontics, where Aaron works. The Molen family first traveled to Costa Rica in 2015 and connected with the people there — but they also saw a huge need from the families.
“A lot of their basic necessities weren’t being met and they were living day-to-day,” Aaron said. “And when you go down and you visit to the tourist sites and the beaches you don’t really see that.”
When they returned home, they felt inspired to help. Through a network of contacts, the Molens made a list of families and the items they needed and began collecting those items for their next trip. When they returned in 2016 to Costa Rica, they met with five families and delivered about $1,000 worth of groceries.
“They’re not like jumping up and down and hugging, but you see it in their eyes how touched they are, which is so rewarding for us and the kids get to see it,” Aaron said.
They’re not like jumping up and down and hugging, but you see it in their eyes how touched they are, which is so rewarding for us and the kids get to see it.
In December, the Molens continued the tradition, this time reaching out through social media and friends from their Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sumner. They were able to pack two 50-pound boxes of baby toys, supplies and groceries to fly to Costa Rica with them.
They met five families in Santa Cruz, Villareal and Brasilito. One particular family hadn’t been on their list of contacts, but after a meeting with another family fell through, they decided to visit.
They met Magali and Esteban Zeledon, and their 11-month-old child, Spencer. The night before the Molens appeared at their home, they’d made a list of all the things they needed for Spencer.
“This was a family we actually didn’t have on our route to start, but we felt like it was somewhere we should go… then we show up on their doorstep and in our arms is everything they had on their list,” Aaron said.
“It’s one of those things where you just feel like somebody’s watching out for them and everything works out the way it’s supposed to,” said Melody, 37.
For Aaron and Melody, the most important lesson their kids can learn from the trip is that giving is more important than receiving, and happiness is found through the people they surround themselves with, and not through “things” — a much-needed reminder during the holiday season.
“That’s one of the biggest lessons for our kids — to see that us giving (families in Costa Rica) these things doesn’t make them happy. They appreciate it, but they are already happy and they didn’t have that much,” Aaron said. “I think that’s really what Costa Rica represents for us—happiness at its core.”
That’s one of the biggest lessons for our kids — to see that us giving (families in Costa Rica) these things doesn’t make them happy. They appreciate it, but they are already happy and they didn’t have that much. I think that’s really what Costa Rica represents for us — happiness at its core.
Aaron’s parents, Julie and Bruce Molen of Auburn, are also involved in giving back to those in need. They traveled to Namibia, Africa, last year with their daughter, Laurisa Pullan, and brought with them 18 suitcases of clothes, art supplies and female hygiene kits.
Aaron and Melody are planning their 2018 trip to Costa Rica and plan to reach out again to their friends and the community for donations. For those interested in donating, contact Aaron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It was a good experience for our family to be able to go down to Costa Rica and see how they react to what we give them… and it makes me happy,” Lily said.
The Molens hope their story will inspire others to give back in any way that they can — and they don’t have to travel anywhere to do it.
“Everyone can do service in just a minute or two — all they have to do is smile and hold a door open for someone,” Kaya said. “Just those little things can create a whole difference in life.”