Gateway: News

Santa’s helpers live on the Key Peninsula

Creighton and Kim Cheyney enjoyed a Christmas Party with their sons Creighton Jr. and Logan on Monday at the Key Peninsula Civic Center.
Creighton and Kim Cheyney enjoyed a Christmas Party with their sons Creighton Jr. and Logan on Monday at the Key Peninsula Civic Center. Courtesy

If the holiday spirit moves you, find a way to spread it.

That’s what happened to two women on the Key Peninsula who were so struck by a visit from Santa Claus that they quickly created a way to give back to nearby families and children in need, moving the spirit from resident to resident.

Seven local families were treated to a party Monday night at the Key Peninsula Civic Center where children got to meet and receive a present from Santa Claus, professional family photos, play games, have a spaghetti dinner and make crafts. Families also went home with large gift baskets, money to help pay a month of electric bills and boxes of food for a holiday dinner.

The event was a success due to the generous gifts from local businesses and residents.

Cousins Stephanie Brooks and Jennifer Wherry together own and work at Gnosh, a food truck located on the Key Peninsula. The pair grew up and lived their entire lives on the peninsula and have always felt a close kinship with those around them.

Girl Scouts from the Key Peninsula do the Hokey Pokey with Santa during the KP Christmas Party on Monday night. Stephanie Brooks Courtesy

They had always been aware of the issues people who live on the peninsula, in unincorporated Pierce County, have faced. Mainly, they have always been struck, and sometimes affected, by the effects of low incomes and lack of business.

“Over 60 percent of our school children are on free or reduced lunch,” Wherry said. “I was in that situation myself with my children not that long ago.”

Brooks said she always wanted to do more with her life, something, she said, which would be meaningful to the people around her. Her cousin Wherry wanted to give back as well.

Then they met Santa Claus.

“Actually his name the rest of the year is Jerry Nebel,” Brooks said. “But he really, truly is Santa Claus.”

Nebel, who owns the business Santa in Seattle with his wife, was visiting the peninsula one night in October when he stopped at Gnosh for a bite to eat. Brooks was astounded by how much Nebel looked and acted like the magical Christmas character.

“From his rosy cheeks to a twinkle in his eye,” Wherry said. “He even winked at me before he left. He tapped into my childhood.”

The two were instantly excited and started talking about how they felt the want to bring Santa in Seattle to children in their community. They came up with the idea to find children from low-income or homeless families.

“Why not help the kids who get left out?” Brooks said.

Wherry reached out to Michelle Harrison, a social worker with the Peninsula School District, to find families that could use help with gifts and food during the holiday.

“When I heard what they had planned, I really wanted to help,” Harrison said. “I knew this could be something that would be a really nice event for some of our families.”

Once families were chosen, the cousins got to work and created Keys to Giving, an unofficial nonprofit.

“We are working with some other people from nonprofits to fill out the right paperwork,” Brooks said. “We want to become an official nonprofit so we can do more parties like this.”

Wherry said she was astonished by the amount of feedback they received from the community. Within two months, the two raised more than $3,000 for the party and a hundreds of dollars worth of donated good and items. Businesses and organizations that donated included:

▪ Waypoint Church

▪ All Terrain Painting

▪ Home Excavating and Dozing

▪ Snack Shack

▪ Buck’s Steak House

More than a dozen local residents also went out of there way to buy school supplies, food items, warm clothes, books and toys for the party. Once the cousins made a Facebook page for their cause, donations also started coming from afar. A large knitting community in Minnesota sent a bundle of homemade hats and scarfs, and a couple in Ontario, Canada who got word of the party sent a package with Christmas toys and decorations.

“We were just blown away by the generosity,” Brooks said. “It felt like something was telling us this was our purpose.”

Now that the holiday party has passed, Brooks and Wherry are looking to the near future to host another event for children on the Key Peninsula. The two are starting to organize a summer party for children in-need who are out of school. While it is still in the planning phase, they are thinking the party will be an outside barbecue with water games and free books for children to take home.

“We hope to now do this every year,” Wherry said. “It feels like our calling.”

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie