What started as a question on Facebook about an extra turkey for Thanksgiving ended in a magical, heartwarming Christmas for a family of six in West Point.
On Nov. 15, West Point resident and Bay Area business owner Curtis Nelson posted a message on a community Facebook group page, asking, “Anyone wanna send me a message privately about a family I can surprise and bless this holiday season?”
Nelson, who bought his first home in 2020 in West Point, posted that he had just bought his first turkey as a homeowner and couldn’t “help but feel the need” to buy a family food for the holidays.
Nelson, who doesn’t have family in the area or kids of his own, wanted to provide a nice meal for a family who needed it. Instead, he ended up playing the role of Saint Nick, bringing a Christmas miracle, and an SUV full of presents and groceries, to a West Point family, hit hard by job loss and reduced income due to the pandemic.
Nelson was contacted by Brook (who has requested that her last name be withheld), who wanted to do something to help her sister and nieces and nephew but didn't have the means to do so herself. Having recently lost her husband and with kids of her own, Brook had her struggles, but told Nelson in the message “We’re making ends meet, but as far as my sister, she really needs help….”
That's why Brook just financed a brand-new refrigerator for the family, who had been “living out of an ice chest” for months after their last one broke.
Nelson got a list from the sister and immediately set to work ordering gifts for each of them from Amazon, buying boots, warm socks, and clothes for the 13-year-old son, and toys for the three younger children. When the gifts arrived at Brook’s home, her 9 and 16-year-old kids helped her wrap them. Then Brook and Nelson made plans to meet and do the grocery shopping together right before Christmas, at the Grocery Outlet in Jackson.
Meanwhile, Nelson corresponded with the Enterprise, whose reporter caught wind of the potential good deeds via Facebook, and asked to follow along to document the special surprise. While messages were being sent back and forth for weeks, making arrangements and coordinating the drop-off, Nelson’s Facebook post also garnered offers of firewood, the use of wood splitters, and some even privately messaged Nelson to find out how they could contribute.
Generous donations came in from multiple members of the community, including business owners. Early Bird Farm and Mill donated their locally milled flour, pancake mix, and popcorn. One husband and wife duo donated two freshly baked pies with their own touching story—the husband having turned to baking for relief through his battle with cancer. Another man, Dennis Rivera Domondon, sent Nelson $125 to go towards the food and gifts.
On Monday, Dec. 20th, Nelson and Brook met at the store in Jackson. What no one had counted on, however, was the oldest of the family’s kids, 13-year-old Matt, (the family’s names have been changed to protect their identities) being at the grocery store at the same time as the Christmas conspirators. Nelson was thrilled to let Matt join in on the fun and fill up an entire cart by himself, telling him to get whatever he wanted. Matt later told the Enterprise, grinning, “This is so cool. … I got a whole bag of drinks just for me. … How often do you get to do something like this?”
The growing boy picked some of his favorite foods, including Hot Pockets and several beverages including strawberry banana coconut water, teas, Propel, and the popular Mexican soda, Jarritos.
With two carts overflowing with groceries for the family, wrapped presents for the kids, and extra donations from the community, Nelson, Brook, and Matt headed up the hill to surprise the rest of the family.
Anna, a mother of four, who does not wish to be identified, lives with her partner, Jim, the father of their 2-year-old twins, 10-year old daughter, and 13-year old Matt. The family’s home is in a remote part of West Point, several miles up a winding, pitted, and snow-covered road.
Both parents have maintained employment throughout the pandemic, though Anna’s work had “slowed down” lately, and Jim had struggled to find something with decent pay and enough hours. He had worked in the restaurant industry before the pandemic and lost his job at a local cafe when the state shut down. The family is hopeful, however, that his new job as a manager at a fast-food restaurant, which he had started the week before the Christmas surprise, will be the lucky break they’ve been hoping for.
“This is perfect. I don’t get my first paycheck until January,” Jim told Nelson, and Anna admitted that she’d stayed up at night worrying about how she was going to pull off Christmas this year, though she had signed up for Toys for Tots so she had a few things for them to go under the tree.
Anna, who was anxious about having her and her kids’ identities published for fear of the older kids being made fun of, said, "I don't ask for help. … This is amazing.” And with tears streaming down her cheeks, she thanked Nelson and her sister over and over, calling Nelson a “treasure to this community.”
“I’m so overwhelmed,” she said while wiping away tears. “Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.”
Nelson, however, says he “just started the conversation,” and made sure to tell the family of each person who got involved to help them out.
He told the two how his parents, who are currently in London, had made him deliver home-baked cookies to all the neighbors while growing up and encouraged him to do random acts of kindness by shoveling a neighbor’s driveway. He says he hated it then, but now understands what his parents were teaching him and wants to pass that on.
“The holidays are boring. … If it's just presents, if it’s not this, you know what I’m saying? I don't have a family to teach that to,” Nelson explained, then turned to Matt and added, laughing, “So you should probably go, like, shovel someone's driveway.”
While the adults talked, the toddler twins were busy clutching their boxes of cereal like a brand-new toy, and Matt made trip after trip to carry in all of the groceries, which had filled his aunt’s SUV.
Nelson made sure to have Matt open one of his gifts right away, a pair of grey suede Columbia boots.
The 13-year-old boy reacted with genuine gratitude, saying “Oh, they’re amazing. Wow, thank you!” as he tried them on. Nelson was just as happy, saying he had a feeling the boy needed the boots and was excited when he saw they matched his outfit that day.
Nelson cried out, “Nailed it!” and the two strangers, who seemed more like old friends now, gave each other a high-five.
Despite his reluctance to take credit for the Christmas miracle, Nelson is no stranger to good deeds. He has used his success with his Bay Area-based party bus and professional painting career as a means to give back. The party bus, called the Twerkulator, began as a way for Nelson and his friends to attend festivals like Burning Man.
Nelson says he’s not “a clout chaser,” but tends to do things “in a big way,” which is obvious when you see the 40-feet-long reformed prison bus wrapped in gold he now rents out for tours and events in the Bay Area. Nelson and his golden party bus showed up to deliver supplies and relief to fire victims in California in 2017, and after the 2018 Camp Fire, got attention from the press that inspired others to get involved. The bus was also featured in a Vice Video documentary that told Nelson’s personal story of renovating and creating a profitable business from the retired prison bus.
Though Nelson’s family doesn’t live in the area, the West Point clan says he is their family now. The teary-eyed mom told Nelson, “If you ever want to come over for dinner…you are welcome here any time.”