“Best Christmas Ever” required a lot of moving parts 

Dave Karsten, owner of Maricopa ACE Hardware, speaks to the crowd outside of the Powell household. 'Best Christmas Ever' organizer BJ Lingren is in the foreground. [Victor Moreno]

Try this on for size: You’ve moved halfway across the country but want to bring a charitable activity you’ve been involved with for years to your new winter home. But you don’t know anyone in the new city. 

Welcome to BJ Lingren’s world, and the story of how she pulled off the inaugural “Best Christmas Ever” event in Maricopa Monday. 

There was only one thing Lingren knew when she started her quest. 

“We knew we wanted to start spending Christmas here in Maricopa,” she said. “But I also knew I did not want to do Christmas without ‘Best Christmas Ever.’” 

And so it began, an endeavor that involved about 80 volunteers, dozens of local businesses, hundreds of hours of time and an immeasurable amount of giving spirit. 

So how did Lingren’s quest start? 

“I got a copy of InMaricopa Magazine in my mailbox,” she said. “I was looking through it and saw the name of the publisher, Scott Bartle, and reached out to him because I thought he must be well connected in the community if he was putting out a magazine every month. And I was right.” 

Bartle rallied a group of community leaders to an initial meeting in February. Among those Bartle brought to the table were Mat Balgaard of Church of Celebration; Maricopa Ace Hardware owner Dave Karsten; Maricopa Unified School District Superintendent Tracey Lopeman; Jon Corwin, general manager of Global Water; and Orbitel Communications President & General Manager John Schurz.

Lingren gives Bartle a great deal of credit for getting the ball rolling. 

“When I approached Scott last year, I didn’t know a soul in Maricopa,” she said. “I’m well established in Minnesota (where she sits on the BCE national board of directors) but I had nothing in Maricopa. BCE wants people to contribute in their own community, so I called Scott and he said he’d help. I told him we’d recently bought a house down here and couldn’t imagine a Christmas without BCE. He has connections in the community and was kind enough to share those, and then we were off and running.” 

For his part, Bartle deflected the praise. 

InMaricopa’s mission is to inform our readers and viewers and enrich advertisers, and we accomplished both by helping BJ,” he said. “We introduced BCE to Maricopa and helped solicit nominations and donations. Many of our advertisers participated and were enriched – if not in the economic sense – by giving to this worthy cause.” 

As the volunteer base grew, it became apparent the difficulty would not be rallying the community to give to a worthy family. The next step was to solicit nominations and select the family most in need. The Powell family was nominated by both Brianna Reinhold and Brenda Campbell. 

Katrina and Michael Powell faced tremendous adversity after their 9-year-old son, Brayden, checked into Phoenix Children’s Hospital in September with a fever and a few days later was paralyzed from the waist down. They have three other children: Brenden, Bentley and Bella. 

As the year progressed, the volunteer base grew; soon there was a Facebook group with about 40 members canvassing the city and tapping contacts to generate donations. Those gifts came in the form of things the nominators, who typically know the family well, recommend.  

These gifts help offset the costs of medical treatment, which in Brayden’s case will be about $100,000. 

Santa Claus and Angela Lloyd stack presents under the Christmas Tree at the Powell household. In the background, Mrs. Claus and Brenda Campbell can be seen.

But “Best Christmas Ever” is not just about the gifts. It’s about community. 

Misty Balgaard of Church of Celebration said she has been involved in many charitable holiday events in the past, but none compared to BCE. 

“It’s really different, because usually we don’t get this hands-on,” she said. “We don’t get to see with our own eyes, the process that goes into putting the package together. Being able to invite our congregation to see the reveal is great and it really makes it more personal.” 

Once the gifts were accumulated, they were all individually wrapped – 14 gifts each for Brayden and his siblings and 10 each for Katrina and Michael, a Tempe police officer. There also was a book containing 40 pages of gift certificates for meals, products and services the family can use throughout the year. In total, the gift package given to the Powells was valued at more than $70,000. 

Finally, the presentation day arrived, and the gifts were to be delivered. The method of delivery began with an offhand comment made by Lingren to Misty Balgaard. 

“Every time you do a “Best Christmas Ever” you want to do an original idea,” Lingren said. “My original words to Misty were, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we paraded up to their house to deliver the gifts?’ After that, my phone was ringing off the hook and I was getting messages all day long. It was out of control – in a good way.” 

Balgaard rallied about 50 vehicles, from fire trucks to police cars to personal vehicles decorated with Christmas lights to create a parade in front of the Powell’s home. Once Lingren told the family they were going to be BCE beneficiaries, the parade rolled by the home with the family in the front yard to observe.The family’s reactions ranged from stunned surprise to grateful tears – and they were not the only ones moved by the event. 

“There are special people in this town,” said Jessica Fleming of Global Gives, a community outreach volunteer group from Global Water Resources. “They care about their community, and they want to help others that are in need. When people know there is a need they are eager to help, and that says a lot. 

“I feel like this is like the TV show Extreme Makeover Home Edition, when we all walk up to that house, and give them the surprise. Why would you not want to be involved in something like this when you’re uplifting a family in such a meaningful way?” 

Balgaard echoed Fleming’s sentiment. 

“I know our community is super giving, but to see them all come together to contribute to a single cause like this is really amazing,” she said.  

Bartle said he has been a fan from the beginning. 

“I really appreciate BCE’s focus on helping families that find themselves in need through no fault of their own. And BJ’s passion is contagious. Hopefully, helping the Powells is a catalyst for creating many more ‘best’ Christmases for Maricopans in the years to come.” 

Lingren said she hopes the event will become an annual one in Maricopa and grow larger with more recipients every year. But the first year is always special, and this one started with one woman with a giving spirit and a community that looks out for its own. It just took someone like Lingren to bring it all together.