Carmel couple leads efforts to bring holiday cheer to Hamilton County families


Jay Kern wants to make sure Christmas cheer comes to Hamilton County families in need.

“I think there is a misconception that there is no need for support in this area because everybody’s rich,” Kern said. “That’s truly not the case. There are 14,000 people that fall below the poverty line.”

Kern and his family have been involved with the Secret Families Christmas Charity of Hamilton County, an organization that delivers gifts for families in need, for four years.

With founder Tom Flanagan of the Hamilton County chapter retiring, Kern and his wife, Leachia, recently stepped in to lead the organization.

“We heard it was not going to happen this year, and we couldn’t let that happen,” Kern said. “We’ve lived in Carmel for almost 25 years, where we are raising our three daughters, but are originally from the Muncie area and are no strangers to the Secret Families story started there years ago. I’m friends with the founders, Chris and Al Holdren, and they do such great work.”

It began in 2004 when the Holdrens agreed to purchase gifts for a struggling family instead of for each other. Now 18 years later, Kern said the charity delivers Christmas to almost 400 families in Delaware County and has affiliates in six additional counties in central Indiana.

Kern said the mission is primarily funded by family sponsorships. The group fundraised to make commitments to the schools it serves by mid-November.

“It costs approximately $550 to provide a family a complete Christmas, and in this year of transition we are seeking to raise awareness about the organization in order to serve as many families as possible,” Kern said.

Kern said the group is moving the shopping and wrapping to Westfield, with shopping at Meijer and wrapping at Crossroads Community Church. All the shopping, wrapping and delivery is set for Dec. 10. The names of families in need come from principals and counselors at local schools. Kern said they typically provide gifts to 30 to 40 families.

“We used to shop in Noblesville and wrap in Fishers,” Kern said. “We’ll continue to serve the entire county, but the biggest need has always been in the Westfield and Sheridan area. It’s a great area for us to call home base.”

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Leachia Kern shops with her daughters, Natalie and Sydney. (Photo courtesy of Jay Kern)

In a year of transition, Kern said the goal is to simply make it happen this year.

“There is a need for volunteers as well as family sponsorships,” Kern said. “We’re trying to find sponsorships for this Christmas, and next year we’re planning some signature events to help us serve the community in other ways.”

The sponsorships include Christmas presents, care package items, Bibles, a fully decorated Christmas tree and gift card for a Christmas dinner.

Kern’s daughters, Natalie, 17, Sydney, 13 and Kennedy, 6, are involved each year.

“Our kids love it, and they look forward to participating with us every year,” Leachia said. “It’s been a way to teach kids it’s better to give than receive.”

Kern said his daughters know better than he does what an 8-year-old girl would want.

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