Last week, The Independent was proud to help organize the second annual Starlit Night and Bethel Express—an event which looks like a Christmas party from the outside, but which was far more in reality.

The event was pulled together by a group of local residents and business owners, and this year it benefitted nearly 20 families facing adverse circumstances beyond their control.

Starlit Night was the brainchild of Danny Strode, owner of Southwest Propane, who had a vision of helping people in tough situations. Those situations included things like sick children, lost jobs or vehicles breaking down: mostly issues made worse by the poverty endemic to our community.

The idea was to adopt those families, taking one worry from their plates, what to do about Christmas and the holiday season. Last year, and this year, nominations were accepted for people who “give back,” and this year, like last year, our selection committee decided to adopt all of the families that had been nominated. This year that was about 20 families.

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Volunteers solicited donations for the event, which went hand-in-hand with a food and donation drive for Bethel Community Storehouse. With the addition of a $5,000 check presented to Bethel by DeeAnn Orio of U.S. Bank in Moriarty, a truckload of food donations and nearly $6,000 were raised for our local food pantry.

That figure is in addition to the contributions which went toward adopting those 18 families. Other volunteers—Shelley Seale and her daughter Vanessa Dodson-Hansen—headed up that process. They spoke with each family about what their needs were, and what the desires of the children were for Christmas. So when it got down to shopping, the families didn’t get generic gifts, but something tailored to their unique circumstances.

Moriarty’s municipal judge, Dorothy Encinias-Pachta, led the crew in the kitchen, first soliciting donations of food and labor, and providing a Christmas feast with all the trimmings—including our traditional New Mexican posole and red chile—feeding close to 500 people without a hitch. The kitchen crew handled everything so well that even with such a large number of people, it all came off perfectly. Those ladies made it look easy.

Another crew headed up by Teri Morgan, with baking help from Tanya Pearcy and her kids, led to a dessert table that could not be beat. Music and dance performances were arranged by Michelle Wells, and included beautiful Christmas carol solos by Sue Shanley. Julian and Vanessa Baca of Lake City Productions served as DJ between performances, donating their time.

starlit 20151210_194730Jim Goodman made an appearance as Santa Claus, something he enjoys just as much as the 200 or so kids who sat on his knee. Each of those children took home a small gift, as well.

The decoration crew was headed up by Paula O’Neil, who, with the help of Jonathan and Nathan Nuñez of Sign Source Plus and their families, created hand-made and hand-decorated table centerpieces. They also helped pull together the 30 or so decorated Christmas trees—and the volunteers who decorated them—transforming the Moriarty Civic Center into a winter wonderland for a night.

While we’re at it, let’s give a shout-out to Jace Alderson and the staff at the Moriarty Civic Center, who always go the extra mile toward making any event there special. Smiling faces and quick action are what you can expect from those guys, and they delivered for this event, too. We especially appreciated the help both setting up and cleaning up after the event.

Moriarty Mayor Ted Hart generously offered to pay for the Civic Center for our event this year—and even though crossed wires and poor communication meant the group didn’t take him up on that kind offer, we appreciated it nonetheless.

Because the group has no “leader,” our biggest issue throughout the planning process has been communication, something we hope to address before we start working on the third annual event next year. But that lack of central direction also is the biggest asset of this group.

Each person who got involved did so because they wanted to. Each person who donated, or decorated, or cooked, or solicited donations, did so because they wanted to. Each of us gave as we were able and helped out as much as we wanted to. The real effect of that was that even as the left hand often did not know what the right hand was doing, it all came together in a beautiful event anyway.

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Our Starlit Night event was just one of the ways people have come together this holiday season. Groups like the Lions Club, the Rotary Club and others help spread good cheer every year as well, and we thank and applaud all of you out there who work every day to make our community a better place to live.

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at [email protected]