MOUNT VERNON, Ky. — Jessi Adams and Isabella Gormanson, both students in Child and Family Studies at Berea College, helped Santa distribute toys at Christian Appalachian Project’s Grateful Threadz annual Santa Day. Adams and Gormanson collected 500 toys in honor of their friend BriAnna Cowden, age 22, who passed away in early November after being involved in a head-on collision with a drunk driver.
Adams and Gormanson are members of the Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society for exceptional students of Child and Family Studies, where Cowden served as president last year.
“Children were really close to her heart,” Gormanson said. “BriAnna always had the biggest heart for everyone and just loved to help others. So, I think she would be really happy seeing all the faces of these kids light up.”
The friends had been discussing ways to honor their Cowden this holiday season, when, by chance, Adams saw a Facebook post asking for donations to help the Grateful Bread Food Pantry and the Grateful Threadz Thrift Store.
“These toys came at a much-needed time,” says Sherri Barnett, manager of the thrift store. “CAP has been so blessed by the students at Berea College. It is these types of generous partnerships that help us serve children and their families in Central Appalachia during the Christmas season and all year long.”
The graduating seniors wanted to have an impact beyond this inaugural event and they used the experience as a service project for their youngest students by partnering with Berea College’s child development laboratory. Parents were encouraged to teach their children about helping others by choosing toys to donate.
“This was a great way for parents to teach their children about giving back,” said Adams. “We were amazed at the response from the Berea community. We had so many toys, we were running out of space to store them.”
Both young women reminisced how this was also a full-circle moment having both benefitted from food pantries and thrift stores when they were children.
“We had no idea how many people were impacting our lives when we were growing up,” Adams said. “Now, we have an opportunity to help make another child’s Christmas special like someone did for us.”
Gormanson added, “We wanted kids to feel that Christmas joy. This was a great opportunity for us to give back to families in our community.”
Karen Bradley brought her three-month-old grandson Taytum to Santa Day to get his first photo with Santa. “I’ve bought baby clothes here for my first grandchild. I was so glad they were offering free photos with Santa. I wanted to take a photo to have on the tree so we could have memories to pass on for years to come.”
Pam Napier, a volunteer at Grateful Threadz, and her husband, Eddie, who volunteers at Grateful Bread, brought their two granddaughters. “The Gratefuls do a lot for the community. This is great event for the whole family.”
Barnett said that over 200 children attended Santa Day where they had the opportunity to meet Santa, get pictures with him, and tell them what was on their wish list. The toys donated by Adams and Gormanson helped fill each gift bag presented to every child at Santa Day. Holiday cookies were an added treat for kids who came to visit Santa.
Cowden, who loved helping children, graduated from Berea College in May 2017 and received a Bachelor of Arts in Child and Family Studies. During her time as a student, Cowden worked as a teaching assistant in the Child and Family Studies Department and at the college’s child development laboratory. Adams and Gormanson plan to promote the toy drive again next year.