Jen Williams of La Grande will brighten the lives of 160 children in Northern California on Christmas Day while keeping a promise she made to herself five years ago.

Williams has sewn Christmas stockings for 160 children in Paradise, California, the city destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire in November. The stockings, all filled with gifts Williams and her family purchased, will be distributed to the Paradise children by the Salvation Army.

Williams, the mother of two young children, was inspired to begin the project almost immediately after seeing news reports of the tragic fire in Paradise.

“It broke my heart. I wanted to do something that would put a smile on their faces,” Williams said of the people who lost their homes.

She also sees herself as returning a favor someone did for her about five years ago in La Grande. Williams, then a single mom of a six-month-old daughter, was going through a tough stretch when two people she did not know knocked on her door. The individuals provided her with Christmas tree decorations and gift cards, making it possible for Williams and her daughter to celebrate the holidays.

“I said I will always give back after that,” Williams said, and she is determined to keep returning the favor she received five years ago, to others she does not know.

Williams’ mother-in-law, Stephanie Williams of La Grande, is impressed with Jen’s commitment to reaching out to the less fortunate.

“She always finds people during the holiday season who do not have something and helps them,” she said of her daughter-in-law.

The 160 stockings Jen Williams made have a total of 12 different designs, including tractors, the Christmas season, Barbie dolls and Elsa, the fictional character from Walt Disney’s “Frozen.” The stockings have fleece interiors rather than the more fragile polyester that is sometimes placed inside stockings.

“I want to make sure they hold up,” Williams said.

The stockings are filled with toys such as Barbie dolls, Matchbox cars and Play-Doh. Williams said the Paradise project was made possible by the valuable assistance she received from her daughter, Kaelyn, husband, Jeremy, and Shirley Simmons, her husband’s grandmother.

Stephanie Williams donated a substantial sum after learning that several business who had indicated they would assist Jen Williams had to decline because of unforeseen issues.

“I felt bad for her,” she said. “Jen had made all these stockings but she could not fill them.”

One national firm could not make a donation because Jen Williams’ charitable organization was not registered as a
501(c)(3) nonprofit. Anyone who makes a donation to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit qualifies for a federal income tax deduction.

Williams said she is now working on attaining 501(c)(3) status for her nonprofit.

The stockings she made were sewn and filled over the course of several weeks, but the success of the project can be traced back two years to when Simmons offered her a used Brother sewing machine.

“She just asked me one day if I wanted it,” Williams recalled.

She accepted the offer, and two days later she was operating it at full speed. For the Paradise project, Williams said, once she gets going she can make between 30 and 50 stockings a day. The key to such efficiency is having all the needed materials accessible.

“You have to be organized,” Williams said. “As long as everything is cut and prepared, I can slap them together quickly.”

Making the stockings for the Paradise children is far from the first charitable project Williams has applied her sewing skills to. A year ago she and her daughter made Christmas stockings filled with gifts for children in La Grande. They also made Christmas baskets for their families.

When Williams is not helping to brighten the lives of those facing challenging situations, she is using her sewing skills to help her family. She sews clothing for her family, makes curtains for her home and more.

“I love to sew. It is relaxing,” she said. “I love being creative by doing things like mixing patterns. I have fun with it.”

Williams and her daughter are already making plans for helping others in the Christmas season of 2019. Williams said they will be making 500 stockings for men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces who are deployed overseas.

The stockings will be filled with socks, candy and toiletries.

“We want to provide them with things they miss from home,” she said.

Stephanie Williams said many people do not know how generous Jen Williams is because she is not one to boast.

“She is pretty close-lipped (about her good deeds),” Stephanie Williams said.