Photo Provided By The Joy Project
The Joy Project was founded by Marisa Bengtson-Loerzel in 2013 after she witnessed a school bus drop off children at the Grand Inn Motel one day, a week before Thanksgiving. Perplexed, she wondered why a bunch of children were going to a hotel after school, but moments later it dawned on her that these kids were going home.
At the time of year where family and a sense of “home” are so treasured, Bengtson-Loerzel began thinking about these families in temporary housing and how hard it must be for them to celebrate holidays when they are unsure of where they will live from day to day. So she started The Joy Project.
The Joy Project is a group of caring community members and businesses who work together to make the holidays feel a bit warmer for such families. Each Christmas Eve, they serve around 300 people, setting up meals at Gladys Ray Shelter, Dorothy Day House, Stepping Stones Resource Center, Bright Sky Apartments, both Grand Inn Motels, The Ronald McDonald House and Project HART. At these places, Santa comes to visit with children and even brings them gifts, creating a fun, festive and magical atmosphere for all.
“As soon as we are done on Christmas Eve, I start looking forward to the next year. It’s truly rewarding to spend the holiday with people who may be in need of some joy during the holidays,” said Bengtson-Loerzel. “I’ve seen kids’ eyes light up when Santa arrives, realizing that he didn’t forget about them. I’ve seen people cry tears of joy by receiving a gift for the first time in many years. I’ve heard a million thank you’s — that’s the most rewarding part of The Joy Project.”
As they are a group of committed individuals and not an official non-profit, their funds are more limited and they rely completely on the generosity of the community. Right now, they are still trying to raise $600 to cover the meals they will serve this year. Additionally, they will be collecting Christmas goodies and 12-packs of sodas and juice at Luna on Christmas Eve morning to help prepare for the night’s festivities. To find out how you can help, either monetarily or by volunteering, be sure to follow them on Facebook under “The Joy Project” and reach out with any questions.
“My goal is to one day fall asleep on Christmas Eve knowing that everybody in Fargo-Moorhead had a meal, got a gift and felt loved for at least one night of the year,” said Bengtson-Loerzel. The way this project has been heading, it is hopeful to think that someday this might be a reality.