Families in Round Lake community ‘elf’ one another to bring joy to 2020

One family gets ball rolling to spread holiday cheer among area residents

Jennifer Coble (on right) stands next to her children, Taylor, 16, and Aubrey 15, in front of their home as  they have fun showing off what is in a basket of presents for a family in the neighborhood who they are about elf in Round Lake Beach.

ROUND LAKE – At least 175 Round Lake area families ended 2020 with a bit of joy left at their door.

The families were “elfed.” They heard a knock or the ring of a doorbell and opened their doors to find baskets filled with gifts such as snacks, cards, candles, New Year’s Eve party supplies, toys, puzzles, crafts, movies and other treats left behind.

The effort began with Jennifer Coble and her children, 16-year-old Taylor and 15-year-old Aubrey. Jennifer’s husband and the children’s father, Bryan, is on active duty in the U.S. Navy, and the family recently had moved from Norfolk, Virginia, to Round Lake Beach.

Because of the pandemic, they’d been isolated.

“My teenagers’ lives were completely shut off,” Coble said. “My son plays baseball. … His world just stopped. He’s usually a really happy kid, and he hit a depression. He had a hard time. I was diagnosed with cancer, and my husband is gone a lot with military and training.

“They needed joy.”

Having joined a Round Lake Community group on Facebook, she left a message on the page. She said she wanted to “elf” families to show her children a bit of joy and asked if anyone wanted to participate.

She “elfed” six families to get it started.

Within the first day, 20 families were on board.

Within a few days, 45 families had been “elfed.”

The effort grew from there, with families still being “elfed” after Christmas.

“I just kind of put it out there,” Coble said. “I never imagined it would be this large, to be honest.”

She and her children organized the entire effort, privately messaging families with details of who to elf and suggestions on what to leave behind.

Once “elfed,” families were asked to elf two other families.

Young couples, small families, large families, young families, seniors, families with pets. All were “elfed” with appropriate gifts.

“I always matched families to what they felt was comfortable they could afford,” Coble said.

And if an “elfed” family wasn’t able to carry on the effort, Coble and her children kept it going.

Families shared their “elfing” stories and pictures on Facebook.

For some who had experienced loss, including those with deaths in the family, the gifts left behind took on added meaning. Many said they had been depressed and didn’t really care about the holidays this year. Being “elfed” brought them some Christmas spirit.

“With everything going on around us, the community needed it. I even participated, and I’ve become a bit of a ‘scrinch’ lately,” said Theresa Stetina, who saw the joy the basket brought her roommate’s daughter.

The family was “elfed” two Christmas movies, popcorn and candy for a movie night.

“The season it’s been for everybody, I was like, ‘Hey, this is pretty awesome,’ " Stetina said.

Coble shared the stories with her children, who asked daily for updates. She’d done a similar project in Virginia for Halloween, leaving behind “boo bags” for families.

There, she knew all the families. She didn’t quite know what to expect in the Round Lake area, where she didn’t really know anyone. The response brought her to tears.

“I needed that,” said Coble, who is waiting to celebrate Christmas on Jan. 4, when her husband returns home. That same day, she goes in for testing to determine the next steps for her cancer treatment. She has yet to get a full diagnosis for the cancer, believed to be gastric.

“I needed something to keep me busy so I could not think about everything else going on,” she said.

She might have “elfed” her last family for 2020, but the effort isn’t over, she said.

“I know it’s going to be a lot bigger next year,” she said.