If you happen to drive through Grapevine and see a house with literally hundreds of Santas filling the yard, there’s a reason for that.
This week, the Murillo family on Spruce Lane flipped on the lights for Santa House and are inviting families for a socially distant photo opportunity in their front yard. Once there, families will see signs posted around the holiday wonderland pointing them to a special mission to help a nonprofit in need, GRACE Grapevine.
“That’s the next level, was partnering with GRACE Grapevine and just realizing that we had a great opportunity on our hands," said Louie Murillo, the brains behind the endeavor. "We have a good platform to hopefully influence and impact some kids in our community that were in need.”
The Murillos are using Santa House as a way to raise awareness and donations to help Grace Grapevine's Christmas Cottage program, which provides new, unwrapped gifts to families in the community facing financial hardship due to limited income or recent emergency.
The pandemic has certainly brought more hardship to more families this year than ever before.
"Like everyone else, COVID-19 reordered our priorities at GRACE, and made crisis-management part of each day’s plan. The first wave of people seeking our assistance was six times the number of clients we saw last year at the same time," said Shonda Schaefer, GRACE CEO. "Families were afraid of this horrible virus but paralyzed with fear of losing their homes, putting food on the table, and seeking medical care. In just eight months, we served 11,042 unduplicated individuals. Our five-year average prior to FY20 was 5,029 clients."
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The signage around the Santa House experience directs visitors to www.GrapevineSantaHouse.com, which automatically connects to a GoFundMe page where all of the donations will go directly to the Grace Christmas Cottage program. The goal this year is $10,000.
“We’ve always been passionate about Grace. We love it because it keeps the money local and the needs local to people within our community. We have seen time and time again families that have been in tremendous need that have just been restored through the resources they provided," Murillo said.
This is the first year the family has ever done anything like this. It started with just a few Santa decorations at the end of Christmas last year.
“I thought I would do something fun with it, maybe make it into a Christmas card," Louie said.
Then one thing lead to another.
“Right when COVID-19 hit, we had a lot of free time on our hands at home and the project just started growing and growing,” he said. “I thought, I want to transform this into a complete Santa House and once we realized the mood of this year, I was like we’re going to go all out!”
Murillo and his family have since collected hundreds of Santas and other holiday decor to fill the yard.
“I think there are a couple of square inches where we can definitely get a few more in there,” he joked. “We have another 300 that we haven’t put out yet but it’s on the to-do list."
This Christmas, several of GRACE's partner agencies have had to scale back services or eliminate Christmas toy programs all together. Schaefer said that, coupled with the flood of new families to the agency, means the need is significant.
"Because of folks like Louie and the Santa House, we are set to serve thousands of children – COVID will not stop Christmas," she said. "As we all take stock in what truly matters, it is important to know that it is not about the toy. It is about doing everything in our power, as adults, to try to maintain the wonder of Christmas for our little ones."
Santa House lights up every night through Christmas between 5:45 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the 3000 block of Spruce Lane in Grapevine.
Families are asked to social distance and use proper COVID-19 precautions while taking photos.
“It’s such an important time right now to reach out and be light in the community. It’s important that we bring joy, it’s important right now that we are enjoying life to the fullest," Murillo said.