Christmas Magic brightens the day

The grassroots project lets those in Hays who are without family know they are not forgotten.

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Jacob Houghton, DSNWK resident in red shirt, greeted the American Legion Riders who delivered his gift bag. Left to right, Caitlin Farrell, Claudine Richmeier, Ray Palmer, Mark Richmeir and Vince Griego.
Angie Rupp gets help for delivering gift bags from American Legion Riders Gary Dutcher, Charles Timmons and Brian Roe.

A program started three years ago to bring Christmas kindness to veterans has grown to include the homebound, long-term care residents and others.

Hays resident Janice Koshiol started Christmas Magic, a grassroots effort of individual donations for gift-bag items to give veterans who are alone at the holidays.

This year for the first time Christmas Magic included some of the developmentally disabled residents of Development Services of Northwest Kansas who don’t have family to remember them.

Members of the American Legion Riders helped deliver the gift bags, a big hit for those who got to see them ride up on their motorcycles this past Sunday. They started with the long-term care facilities in Hays.

“We first went to Hays Good Samaritan, then to Brookdale … then to various DSNWK homes,” said Koshiol. “These recipients were so delighted to receive their gift bags; more than once one of them would grab a rider and hug them hard.”

The first year Christmas Magic delivered 59 gift bags, the second year 63, and this year they handed out 72.

Bags this year included shampoo and lotion, Kleenex, a hair brush, note pads and pens, cookies, Clementines, candy canes, face masks, calendars, a stress ball, playing cards, a puzzle book and non-slip booties.

The idea the first year of Christmas Magic was to let veterans know they weren’t forgotten, Koshiol said.

“The suicide rate is so high with veterans, especially at times like Christmas. You feel so much more alone,” Koshiol said. “I just wanted them to know someone cares about them.”

One year one of the vets asked their home health aid “’Are those gals gonna do that again next year?’” Koshiol recalled. “Those vets, it’s something they genuinely look forward to. So it’s definitely worth doing.”

Koshiol always makes the first donation, to get the ball rolling, putting in $500 to help purchase items for the gift bags. Then she asks for donations on the Facebook pages “You know your from Hays if” and “Hays America,” requesting $25 a bag.

“Normally we get donations from individuals, but this year everyone is hurting so bad,” said Koshiol. “This year, it bothered me terribly to call up local businesses, but they didn’t hesitate. The businesses stepped right up. It would have been heartbreaking if we wouldn’t have been able to get it done. It would have been a big disappointment not to get it to those people.”

Koshiol herself is a veteran, having served in the U.S. Army from 1973 to 1977, in Army security. She went on to become a medic with Walter Reed Army Hospital with duty at Fort Myer, Virginia.

Helping her buy the items this year and put together the gift bags were Angie Rupp, Amber Koshiol and Caitlin Farrell. 

“We usually have Boy and Girl Scouts helping us deliver the gift bags, but with this virus their activities have been sharply curtailed,” Koshiol said. “We are very grateful that when the American Legion Riders heard about our predicament they stepped up to help us out.”

Businesses that made donations were Golden Belt Bank, Danny Dinkle’s Farm Bureau Insurance agency, Sunflower Bank, Bank of Hays, ABC Seamless, Northwestern Printers, The Rose Garden, Dillons, Walmart Optical and Nex-Tech. Koshiol’s high school classmate and former Hays resident Cindy Schmidt also donated.

“I don’t take credit for it. I always give credit to God. I don’t know what touched my mind to do this,” Koshiol said. “We’re just Christmas elves, doing this magic.”