These are your #LocalHeroes — ordinary people doing extraordinary things in Sweetwater County. This SweetwaterNOW series highlights those often unnoticed acts of kindness to the incredible actions of many in our community.
Kayla Mannikko has always found it important to give back to her community in any way she can. Spreading holiday cheer is just one of the ways she gives back, which became especially significant this year amid the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
“There can be so much pressure during the holiday season, whether it’s to buy the perfect gift for your loved ones or simply to make sure your children enjoy the season regardless of the pandemic,” Kayla said. “Some families have went from two incomes to one, some families have lost their only income source, and some may still have the income but are separated from each other because of the pandemic. Some people are fighting for their lives and aren’t even thinking about the holidays this year.”
With the stress that the pandemic and this year have brought to people all throughout the community, Kayla knew she had to do something to try to lift her fellow community members’ spirits this holiday season.
Kayla and her two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Mae, made 20 Grinch bags for the local patients at the Wyoming Cancer Resource Center, donated a Thanksgiving dinner to a client at the YWCA of Sweetwater County, adopted an Angel from the Angel Tree at Mission at Castle Rock Rehabilitation Center, and made cards to a few seniors in Sweetwater County.
While shopping for goodies for the Grinch bags, a woman asked Kayla what they were making, and that’s when Kayla realized the true importance of what her family was doing.
“After sharing what we were doing she said that she hasn’t been in the holiday spirit this year with the pandemic but seeing a young child buying and making things for others truly put a smile on her face, and encouraged her to not only get in the spirit but help spread love and cheer to others this holiday season,” Kayla said. “It melted my heart knowing that we are helping those we are gifting, but also encouraging those around us to help others and enjoy themselves this holiday season.”
Kayla first started the tradition of spreading holiday cheer when her daughter was born in 2018.
“The clients in the nursing homes absolutely loved seeing her when she was a baby so that was her contribution at the time. Now she is old enough to start grasping the true meaning of others’ happiness and what it means to give,” Kayla said.
As a mother, seeing Elizabeth learn about the meaning of giving back and take enjoyment in it is the biggest reward Kayla could ask for.
“It is so important for me to do the best I can in raising respectful and caring children who will happily do their part in the community they live in. I believe that as our children age they will experience situations where they can truly help others, and I want them to take that opportunity on their own when it comes,” Kayla said.
Being able to spend time with her family baking, planning the gifts, wrapping, and delivering the items are all part of Kayla’s favorite part of the family tradition.
“I am so proud of my daughter for being such a generous two year old, and it truly melts my heart to spend time with her while doing such an important task,” Kayla said.
Elizabeth had an especially great time this year wrapping the items to gift. She even wrapped the card she made.
“She was very precise in picking out the kind of wrapping paper and went even further to decorate the paper with tons of tape,” Kayla said.
Due to the pandemic, Kayla and Elizabeth were not able to deliver the gifts in person like they normally would. Instead, they had to drop off the items and allow the essential workers in the nursing homes and hospital deliver the items to each recipient.
“I hope we will be able to go spend time with individuals next year rather than just drop our items off, because that’s the part we all really enjoy,” Kayla said.
Kayla recently gave birth to a boy, Noah Jay, who is now eight weeks old. She looks forward to being able to include him in the tradition of giving back.
“Regardless of my family’s financial situation, we will be sure to follow through with our tradition and do whatever we can to help others have a better holiday season,” Kayla said. “I wanted to bring a bit of joy to those struggling in our community; even if the happiness is brief,” Kayla said. “Like Mother Theresa said, ‘It’s not about how much you give but how much love you put into giving.”
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