For the third year in a row, a group of business owners and individuals are coming together to create an event that is both a celebration and a way to help the less fortunate—all wrapped up in a pretty Christmas bow.

The event this year will adopt 29 families, nominated by the community, who are facing hard times beyond their control. Those families are gifted with individualized presents based on their needs and wants. In years past, that has meant everything from socks to gift cards to art supplies.

Meanwhile, the organizing group has set up more than 60 drops for donations of food or other items for Bethel Community Storehouse. Each box this year is decorated as part of a train that will grace the lobby of the Moriarty Civic Center on the night of the big event, bursting with the generosity of the community at large on its way to Bethel.

A crew of a handful of women headed up by Moriarty’s municipal judge, Dorothy Encinias-Pachta will prepare a full Christmas dinner, with turkey, ham and all the trimmings, along with New Mexico’s traditional posole and red chile.

On Dec. 4, the Starlit Night bunch will throw open the doors of the Civic Center for the meal, which is offered to the community free.

A decorating committee will swarm the Civic Center, transforming the space into a winter wonderland, with dozens of decorated Christmas trees, many on loan from Ben and Sandi Steinlage’s Christmasland display.

And the event includes music, face painting and a visit from Santa. Last year the line wound halfway around the room as kids of all ages waited their turn to sit on Old Saint Nick’s lap.

The whole event was the brainchild of Danny Strode, who owns Southwest Propane. He said he was looking for a way to give back into the community and to ease people’s minds for a day when times are hard.

Shelley Seale and her crew of volunteers will have thousands of dollars to spend on the families—and yet another crew of volunteers will help wrap and sort the hundreds of gifts the event generates.

Each year, the number of young people who help out with the event increases.

The Independent is taking part in the event as well, by taking donations for Starlit Night; 100 percent of those funds support the event. Those interested in supporting the Starlit Night are urged to call 505-286-1212 or email [email protected] for details on how to help.

The Phillips family is Jason and Tammy, with children Jaden, Marie Christine, and Krista. All three kids say they like to help people.

Jaden, 12, organized a fundraiser for victims of a tornado in Oklahoma when he was 8. “It’s neat to see the kids face light up,” he said. “To see just joy and sadness at the same time—it’s just wonderful.”

His sister Krista, 8, said her favorite part was decorating boxes. “I like helping because we make money for all the sad people,” she said.

And Marie Christine, age 9, said, “If we want to do it, we just gotta go for it and try, and we have to work for it. What really is happy for me is we’re doing it for these families and the Bethel.”

Another family, this one headed up by Tanya Pearcy, has also been involved since the first year, with Pearcy’s teenagers both saying their mom sets the example for them.

Victoria Pearcy is 17 and a senior at Moriarty High School. “What I feel like it brings the community is basically hope for those who feel like no hope is coming,” she said. “Not on that severe of level, but I kind of know what it’s like to struggle. … I like participating in it because I like the feeling of actually helping somebody.”

Her brother Justin Pearcy, 19, said working on the event has opened his eyes. “I think [my mom’s] example for us really makes me want to get involved, help out—help my community more. It’s opened my eyes to see what kind of situations there were that I was not aware of. I had never known.”

I take part because a lot of people are suffering,” Tanya Pearcy said. “I know suffering as well and it’s nice to help somebody else having hard times. A community has to come together.”

Everyone at Monday’s planning meeting were there for the third time this year, and Nathan Nuñez was no exception. “Being from this community, I see the needs that everybody has,” Nuñez said. “Every bit that I can do to help out whomever I can help, is God in my shoes.”

Shelley Seale is another organizer of the event. “I think especially at a time when the whole world is in an uproar over politics something like this is important,” she said. “Our group is all different religions and political beliefs, but when it comes to giving to our community, everybody’s there. I’m so amazed! To see their love and giving and what they do. We believe in miracles.”

Dorothy Encinias-Pachta and her sisters take over the kitchen at the Civic Center, cooking for hundreds in what she refers to as “the easy part” of the event. The food is all donated. “There isn’t anything a group of people cannot do. We can do it if we have the right mindset—we’re doing it for a purpose and not for ourselves. I just love to see the smiles on peoples’ faces. The whole night is wonderful.”

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]