Delivering a Christmas Miracle
Non-Profit works to share the spirit by giving families a Christmas tree
When football season kicks off, Ryan and Bobbi Cox start to feel the excitement brewing. They know it’s only a matter of time before the leaves start to fall and they can do the one thing they wait for all year.
“I know it’s getting closer to Christmas and then it’s game on,” Ryan says with a laugh. For the past 15 years or so, the family’s display near 72nd Street West and Neibauer Road has been an attention-grabber. Thousands upon thousands of lights cover nearly every square foot of the family’s house and yard. They start decorating for “Santa’s Wonderland” in mid-September, and on the night of Thanksgiving they flip the switch, lighting up the display through the first of the year.
“It’s honestly my favorite time of the year,” Ryan says.
On Thanksgiving 2020, the couple and their three kids were decorating when Bobbi realized they had two Christmas trees they no longer needed.
“Ryan said, let’s put them on Facebook. There was an overwhelming number of people who reached out and said, I could really use one,” Bobbi says.
“We had close to 200 messages on Facebook,” Ryan says. “I’m not even exaggerating. I told Bobbi, this is insane and almost heartbreaking.”
That one Facebook post was the seed that would sprout into what is now Project Christmas Miracle. It’s a nonprofit organization that believes everyone deserves to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones. All year long, the couple seek sponsorships and donations to give a family in need an artificial tree, a tree topper, tree skirt, stockings for each member of the family and ornaments and lights to deck out the tree.
That first year, they helped 28 families in just a month. In 2021, that number grew to 35. Last year, the family delivered trees and all the trimmings to just shy of 60 families.
“Three seasons, helping over 100 people? I would never have thought we’d be able to do that,” Ryan says. “Being able to help the community and knowing that when I was a kid, I went through some of the same things that many of these families experience with my mom struggling to make ends meet. I know where they are coming from.”
“Ryan will always say, I came from a broken home and the meaning of Christmas is the tree and sitting around it building that bond with family,” Bobbi says. “It’s not about the gifts. It’s about the memories you make with your family. That’s what lights us up.”
On a chilly Saturday last December, armed with a detailed spreadsheet and a handful of volunteers, the Cox family could be seen pulling boxes out of storage units, organizing them by name and then dispatching different volunteers to help them get delivered.
“It’s kind of chaotic, I am not going to lie,” says Kalei, the couple’s 20-year-old daughter. Still, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think it’s a really good idea. I like that we are helping people.”
One of the stops that day was to Rachel Phillips, an Army veteran who was medically discharged from the service in 2021. As Rachel opened the door, you could see tears start to well in her eyes as she gave Bobbi a hug.
“Oh, thank you! I don’t want to cry,” Rachel said. “All of my family is back east and I am so used to celebrating with family.” She added, “I came back here after the military because my son said, ‘Mom, I need you home.’ I have been back for about a year and I moved with basically what I could fit in my car. I left a lot behind and now I’m just trying to get back on my feet.”
As she looked through the box of ornaments she said, “This is huge. This allows us to actually have a Christmas tree to decorate, make ornaments and make those memories.”
Project Christmas Miracle now partners with both the YWCA’s residential living complex and Veterans Navigation Network, a nonprofit that helps people to make the transition from military to civilian life. Both organizations urge those they serve to apply for a tree. The rest of the applications come straight from the public and, as Ryan says, many of the stories pull on his heartstrings.
“When we started, we were in the middle of the pandemic. People lost their jobs due to Covid and so that played a big role,” he says. “Now, you are starting to see stories of people who have lost spouses. There are several this year who are by themselves and said, ‘Well, I am not going to celebrate because I am by myself.’ I say, ‘Well, why don’t we bring you a tree?’”
Other families can’t help but get emotional at the gestures of kindness.
“We’ve had several families cry,” Ryan says. “The first year, there were three different families that just came and gave us all hugs. I thought this, this is what makes it worth it.”
It probably comes as no surprise that as soon as Christmas is over, the Cox family — Ryan, Bobbi and their three children, Hayden, Kalei and Teagan — start gearing up for next year, hitting up after holiday sales.
“Oh my. Hobby Lobby, man. We came through and cleaned them out. They said, what are you guys doing and we tell them we run a charity,” Ryan says.
“We went to Walmart the other day and we got 16 trees and they stopped us on the way out. The guy asked us, why do you need all those trees? We said, we are giving them to families who need it,” Bobbi says. When the man asked if it wouldn’t be better to put food on a person’s table, Bobbi says she told the man, “We aren’t here to judge what you have going on in life or where you live. If you reach out and fill out the application, we are all for it.”
“My son was asking me, ‘What does the 10-year plan look like?’ I laughed and said, I’m living for today. Honestly though, I would love to see this go statewide,” Ryan says.
Now that they’ve figured out how to spread this kind of Christmas cheer, Ryan knows he and his family are in this for the long haul.
“Bobbi and I will never stop giving,” Ryan says. “It’s life-changing doing this.”
HELP PROJECT CHRISTMAS MIRACLE by donating new or gently used artificial trees. The organization also takes decorations, lights, tree skirts, tree toppers and stockings. Project Christmas Miracle also takes monetary donations, noting that it takes roughly $100 to give the gift of a tree, decorations and stockings to a family of four. You can send cash donations to: Project Christmas Miracle, 111 S. 24th S. W., #8-130, Billings, MT 59102. You can also Venmo them by sending a donation to @projectchristmasmiracle.