It’s time to grab a hot cocoa and a box of tissues and enjoy a Christmas story or should I say, miracle.

You may wonder how this is related to Emergency Preparedness so let me tell you the story of Operation Christmas Ornaments. Each year, thousands suffer after surviving a natural disaster. As I have spoken to survivors, they often mention missing the Christmas ornaments they lost. Ornaments hold so many memories.

I have often thought of this loss, so in 2020 when the towns of Talent and Lincoln City Oregon lost many homes to a fire, I reached out to family and friends and 6 of us with the help of more friends made a little over 600 ornaments. We had a contact in Talent and also one in Lincoln City, Oregon so we were confident our ornaments would get to survivors.

In 2021, one of the angels who helped the year before, Laura, was the Stake Communications Director for her Stake and involved in bringing 9 truckloads of supplies, water, hygiene kits and food from Church Distribution to five towns in Kentucky that experienced great loss due to flooding.  It quickly became obvious we needed to act and once again called for help creating handmade ornaments. We created a Facebook page, texted, emailed and called friends and ornament creation began for those in Kentucky and Tennessee who had experienced devastating floods. In the end, we distributed 5,800 homemade ornaments created by 650 individuals from 19 states. We were able to serve close to 600 families with sets of 12 ornaments.

December 2021 was devastating as we witnessed the unthinkable, the longest tornado in recorded history destroying homes and even entire towns in several states right before Christmas. Then, the week following Christmas, a firestorm destroyed over 1,000 homes in Boulder County, Colorado. Again, we knew we had to act. A wonderful lady, now a great friend, Carol Burton reached out and volunteered to coordinate efforts in Colorado while Laura Davis, once again led the way for the tornado survivors in Kentucky and Tennessee

Now for the miracle! This year we received 20,000 ornaments from 33 states and Japan, enabling us to serve 500 families in Colorado and 1100 families in Kentucky and Tennessee. When you realize that number is families, think of how many individuals that is; thousands. We could never have imagined the time, creativity and love in each ornament. We received ornaments from individuals, Relief society, primary, young men and young women, and activity days groups as well as 4H clubs, girl scouts, Daughters of the American Revolution, family reunions, neighborhood gatherings, a high school KEY Club in Louisville, Kentucky, and military families in Alaska. A huge community of loving and caring people.

We have quickly become aware that what we have been taught is true, “I have learned that when we heed a silent prompting and act upon it without delay, our Heavenly Father will guide our footsteps and bless our lives and the lives of others. I know of no experience more sweet or feelings more precious than to heed a prompting, only to discover that the Lord has answered another’s prayer through you.” Thomas S. Monson

We received notes from many who created ornaments. Here are a few examples:

Ornament creations helped with healing after the loss of a beloved friend.

“This ornament was created in loving memory of Amber Robbins. Amber loved providing Christmas to others so we hope our efforts on her behalf bring you joy. Amber’s love of Christmas and Disney served as inspiration for the ornament.”

Brought healing to those also affected by disasters.

“ These ornaments were made by the sisters of the Salem Oregon Stake using wood from trees that fell in our ice storm.” Another: ”These were made from trees that fell during hurricane Laura”

Service brings joy to those providing the service.

“Thanks for letting us make these. Best time we have had serving in ages”

Helped with healing the spirit.

“These angels were created with lots of love and were a really good distraction to all of my medical appts. and issues related to my upcoming kidney surgery. I hope they bring my needed joy to any family in need. Thanks for the opportunity to serve”

I especially loved this note.

“Greetings from the great and may I say biggest state of them all. These ornaments were created by the child and youth program members on the joint base Elmendorff -Richardson in Anchorage, AK. Members of the CYP range from six weeks to 18 years old and their families. We see many families come and go, as military orders come from near and far. Many of these same families experience many losses as they move every few years. Many have expressed how they know the feeling of leaving things behind or giving their household goods up. We express our love to those who have lost their homes due to natural disasters.”

Three women organized friends and each group created over 1,000 ornaments. Their friendships were forever strengthened. One group was comprised of neighbors who barely knew each other when they began. They are now close friends.

Families came together or were remembered. Several told us when they gathered for reunions, they created ornaments. One family had five generations participate.

One woman had us all in tears as she wrote: “Hello from West Palm Beach Florida. I loved creating these bears modelled after a large set my grandmother made when she first became a teacher. I loved helping her set up her tree and when I was thinking of what ornament to craft, these came to mind. Participating in this made me feel close to my grandma and close to Christ. Thank you.”

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of passing out ornaments in Colorado. What an amazing experience. Santa and Buddy the Elf were there with us and it was fun to watch the children and almost every adult take photos and interact with them. Even more amazing and very emotional was watching neighbors embrace as they saw each other for the first time since losing their homes. I received many hugs and cried with several as they expressed their joy for being remembered.

Laura said: “I felt like the Lord’s conduit between those serving and those needing to be served. I felt that in every step along the way.”

Following is a small sample of what survivors are saying:

“I had to work today, but my husband works at the park. We were victims from the tornado as well. He brought me this bag home and I can’t begin to explain the joy and tears as I opened each one and read each card enclosed. The fact they are all handmade is so special. They are going on my tree. I can’t begin to say thank u enough to each one who took the time to do this. I would love to help with this to brighten someone’s day as you all have mine. Your small tokens impacted in such a great big way. God bless u all.”

“Thank you! This puts a little happy back on our tree. A little life, a little spark. Something more full of life than store bought bulbs. This will help us create new happy memories thinking of people who care whenever we see them.”

“I just wanted to say, this was so beautiful and wonderful, thank you so, so much.

My husband and I cried so many times from this beautiful gesture and thinking about so many things, it was a really special, healing day for us.

In addition, I know there was mention that there were some ornaments that came from Japan, and while I was there, the volunteer said she wasn’t sure which was which, but if you happen to have any left, I would absolutely love one. My husband and I lived in Japan for 3 years and we lost every physical thing that was connected to it. Even our passports with our visas… It’s stupid but for some reason it has felt so hard to lose those. Anyway, it would be a really special thing for us to have an ornament made with love from our favorite place. Thank you so much.”    As a follow up, Carol was able to search through several sets of ornaments and find one from Japan and get it to this family. When our angel in Japan heard she also reached out to this family and is sending a care package from Japan. There are still amazing people in this world!

“Many thanks for the beautiful ornaments from near and far. I so appreciated the labels and awesome creativity. We lost everything in Louisville, CO last Dec. 30th in the Marshall Fires. We have a very small tree, and it is lovely.”

“Our family with 3 small sons suffered significant tornado damage last December in KY and we are still not back in our home. Thank you so much for the ornaments we received from you all this year. My boys love them and they gave us a lot of joy and cheer knowing that our difficult year hasn’t been forgotten. Thank you so much!”

“I live in Tennessee, right across the line from Mayfield. Today, we had our ceremony marking our 1-year tornado anniversary. My family and I all received these beautiful ornaments and I wanted to tell each and every one of you thank you so, so much. I would love to personally thank each one that created and sent them, but only a few had names. We did indeed lose ornaments but these touched my heart because I know God had his hand in each and every one. God bless you all. If you’re the creator of one of these, I’d love to say thank you!!”

As disciples of Christ, we are encouraged to reach out. You never know what great things come from small and simple efforts.

“I was teaching a lesson yesterday afternoon when my doorbell rang. I looked at the front door camera app and saw that three young Mormon men were standing at my door. I was kind of excited. I have always wondered what these visits entail. I paused my lesson briefly and ran to the door. I was expecting something like “we are here to tell you about Jesus Christ” and I was gonna be all “yeah, I know that guy pretty well.” but that is not what happened. The leading Elder of the group had a bag of handmade Christmas ornaments in his hand. He said[paraphrasing] “We heard that you lost your home last December in the tornado and just recently built it back. We assume you lost many things, like your Christmas ornaments. These ornaments were handmade by people across the world for your family. We hope you have a Merry Christmas this year” Well, he was right. We did lose most of our Christmas ornaments. We even had a bare tree sitting in the living room as proof. We planned to go buy new ones this weekend.

I have to say, I kind of love those moments in life where you make an assumption about someone or something and then they totally blow your mind and prove you wrong. It’s a bit embarrassing at first, but then you grow. And for me, growth is the name of the game on this planet. We start out imperfect and sure that we know it all, and if we keep our ears, hearts, and minds open, we can grow into something to be proud of. I’m very grateful those young men stopped by with their sweet and thoughtful gift yesterday.”

It amazed us as we reached out to media how willing and how fascinated they were to cover our project. People who read and viewed reports were moved to join the effort and to share with others. Many are looking for, and wanting to participate in, efforts that light the world.

And the children…

“I teach in a KY area impacted by tornados last Christmas. Today we made ornaments for our winter tree. One drew the Christmas tornado… Thank you for all you are doing.”

From another child: “Me and all my family love these ornaments. We look forward to putting them on our tree they are going to bring us lots of magic”

These are two of my favorite notes, they made me cry.

“Thank you for the ornaments they make me happy! I think you should get extra presents this year for this. My name is Brooke and I am seven years old.” AND “Dear nice people, thank you for all the ornaments I’m thankful for every single one of them now you know for sure you will be on the nice list. Emily age 8”

Imagine, as a child, your memory of Christmas is the destruction of your home. It breaks my heart to think of all these children have endured.

I could share dozens more and I will be posting more on the Operation Christmas Ornaments Facebook page.

Laura commented, “One of the media reporters at the media distribution yesterday asked me if I had any final thoughts or feelings about this nationwide service project. I shared that one of the things I have personally loved is that it feels like we have become a community through the past months of sharing on Facebook. I feel so blessed to read the cards and know about crafters ornament creating experiences. I told the reporter that I feel like we (the creators and Facebook members) have united in a grand cause.”

This spirit has been felt by so many involved.

One dear member of our ornament community reached out to Laura to share her story. She gave permission to share her story as she is in need of our prayers.

The police called shortly after she mailed the angel ornaments that she made and gave her heartbreaking news that no parent wants to hear. Her only child, her son, had passed away. This dear sister in Christ is experiencing deep sorrow and has asked for our prayers to lift and comfort her through this very heavy trial.

This woman, not a member of our church, could feel the love and the spirit through the messages and love created on our Facebook page and reached out for help. Our community responded and Tina is in our prayers.

Carol, our Colorado coordinator, expressed her feelings: “My thoughts about the whole adventure keep coming back to something similar to what Laura expressed: unity.  There is so much divisiveness in the world right now, and it is wonderful to see what miracles can happen when we come together in unity for a good cause instead of letting things that we don’t see eye to eye on feed hate and violence.  What a different world we would be living in if we just came together for good causes such as this.  The other thing I kept mentioning to others is that I could literally feel the love that was sent through those ornaments.  It almost felt like sacred space in my living room while they were all sitting in there and I felt a great responsibility and an honor in being the caretaker of them for a short time.  It is fascinating to me that a feeling like love can be transmitted through a physical object, but I believe that is what is touching people who receive them so much.  They can literally feel the love of the people who made them through the ornaments that were sent.  I feel like that is a blessing and a miracle in and of itself.”

President Oaks in his conference address, Helping the Poor and Distressed expressed the following: “Despite all that our Church does directly, most humanitarian service to the children of God worldwide is carried out by persons and organizations having no formal connection with our Church. As one of our Apostles observed: “God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work. … It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people.* ”

As I listened to this talk, I felt that is exactly what Operation Christmas Ornaments is all about. Several others told me they had the same feeling as they listened. As mentioned earlier, we have participants from many walks of life and many, many communities.  It reminded me of something President Spencer W. Kimball said: “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom.”

Once again Carol said it best. “I just had a little epiphany.  In the temple we make covenants to consecrate ourselves, our time, and our talents.  The word “consecrate” means to make holy.  Like our sacrament bread.  It’s just bread, but it’s made holy in its purpose. It’s representing Christ’s body.  So, it started to make sense to me that something ordinary like an ornament could feel different.  We had people all around the country who were consecrating their time, talents and even themselves.  No wonder all those ornaments felt special sitting in my house.”

We can never replace the memories of lost ornaments but our goal is to make sure survivors do not feel forgotten. We know Heavenly Father has not forgotten and we will not forget. I hope and pray we can always be His hands here. It has been an honor to serve.


* Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1928, 59.

A special thanks to Just Serve specialists around the country, Bowling Green missionaries, the Westminster Colorado and Lexington Kentucky North Stake presidents and YW and YM, local relief organizations in Colorado, Kentucky and Tennessee, and the media in Kentucky and Colorado for their coverage of organizing and distribution events.

To become involved for 2023 please visit Operation Christmas Ornaments on Facebook or message Carolyn in the comments at the end of this article or at