It was the now infamous year, 2020, and the Centers for Disease Control had just announced that “Thanksgiving was canceled.” Actress and singer Jen Lilley and her best friend sarcastically remarked to each other, “What, is Christmas canceled too?”
In jest, they purchased a domain, “christmasisnotcancelled.com” only to watch in dismay as just a few days later, Christmas was in fact officially canceled by the powers that be. “We were like, ‘No, but really, Christmas might actually be canceled for a lot of people. What are we going to do?’”Jen shares. (By “canceled,” we of course mean that holiday gatherings were limited only to immediate households across much of the U.S. and the globe.)
Feeling the helplessness of the pandemic, in a heroic effort to save Christmas, Jen decided Christmas indeed could not be canceled.
A Twinkle of Light to Make Things Bright
“What can I do with exactly what I have, in the circumstances we’re all facing?” she asked. Reaching out to her friends and celebrity colleagues, she organized a campaign to bring Christmas to the ones who most needed it, but had the least access to it.
As a mother of four kids, she couldn’t help but think of underserved kids across the country, especially those stuck within the foster care system who could use a little bit of extra Christmas light, love and joy.
What started as a one-time campaign to “give Christmas to families in crisis,” has turned into its own collaborative movement. “Christmas Is Not Cancelled” has “evolved into a series of impactful giving campaigns featuring family-friendly celebrities from various television networks, centered around fostering a sense of community that gives back,” with the ultimate goal of serving vulnerable children.
“Our goal is to spread Christmas cheer all year long and create a healthy space within the online community that promotes generosity and kindness while offering participants the chance to win exciting prizes. Together, we work towards our shared mission of supporting children in need.”
Christmas Cheer Throughout the Year
When someone donates a toy through Christmas Is Not Cancelled, they receive multiple sweepstakes entries which give them the chance “to win celebrity vacations and all sorts of fun things as just our way of saying thank you,” Jen says. “The whole campaign was supposed to be one and done, and then what happened was everybody loved it so much. They’re like, what are we gonna do next year?”
So Jen and her friends decided to create an annual campaign, and in the summer give school supplies for kids in foster care. “Two of my children are adopted out of foster care. And so I have a really big heart for foster care and that whole system. Christmas Is Not Cancelled is a campaign that says ‘you might not feel like you can do much on your own, but collectively as a whole we can do a lot,’” Jen shares. “I think that really is the message of Christmas.”
Christmas Is Not Cancelled is about “providing Christmas presents to underserved children and children in crisis. It’s not just about material gifts; it’s about promoting well-being, hope, inclusion, and the values of generosity and community support.”
The Gifts That Keep on Giving
So, who was the mastermind behind this outside-the-box (so to speak) giving model? None other than Jen Lilley herself. She’s starred in dozens of movies and TV shows, along with numerous Christmas movies (including Hallmark Christmas movies like “Mingle All The Way,” “U.S.S. Christmas” and “Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday”) not to mention recurring roles in daytime television shows “Days of Our Lives” and “General Hospital”. She’s also appeared in shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Criminal Minds”.
Actress, singer, dancer and passionate community activist, Jen Lilley is more than a “triple threat.” (Speaking of dancing, keep an eye out for her recent movie, “A Paris Christmas Waltz” airing on the Great American Family Channel and co-starring award-winning actor Matthew Morrison, most known for his role as Mr. Schue in “Glee”.) Jen’s brilliance and influence go far beyond acting and entertainment.
As she contemplated how to try to keep Christmas alive during tumultuous 2020, she began brainstorming how to urgently get Christmas gifts and more resources to kids in crisis. Recognizing the financial bottlenecks and organizational red-tape that nonprofits frequently encounter, Jen decided to go a different direction.
She wanted to minimize funding delays and simultaneously cultivate a larger-scale sense of community connection, despite the physical, in-person limitations of pandemic-related restrictions.
“My dad was a judge and my brothers are lawyers. So I’m a stickler for following the law. I thought, ‘Oh let me research sweepstakes,’” she shares. Jen’s upbringing with family members in the legal world helped her exhaustively investigate transparent, legitimate ways to make an impact, fast.
Jen considered a sweepstakes model as she developed her plan to bring special Christmas cheer to children likely experiencing some of the most extreme loneliness and isolation during that challenging COVID season.
… And Giving
Inspired by a successful musical campaign called “Voices That Give” which she hosted in May of 2020, she hoped to tap into that same contagious community spirit. As a worldwide talent competition, “Voices That Give” contestants submitted their talent reels while simultaneously raising money for a home for teen girls in foster care.
On another amazing sidenote, 100% of Jen’s music profit always goes to the Tulsa Girls Home for teen girls in foster care. “These girls don’t have moms or dads who can take care of them and have honestly had to live more life than anyone should ever live.” (Even via a Zoom interview, it’s impossible not to find yourself moved by Jen’s sincerity and compassion.)
Jen and her business partner went to work, creating merchandise and digital gifts that can be purchased to promote Christmas Is Not Cancelled and its vision to help children. From trips to “Christmas Con” (yes, it’s a thing! We’re sure all the Christmas “Die Hards” and Hallmark aficionados already know) to exclusive events like live online baking classes with various VIPs, Christmas Is Not Cancelled offers something for everyone.
And, it’s a win-win for everyone. Each toy donated through their website creates a sweepstakes entry (or several), with the mega grand prize including lavish gifts from Pottery Barn, a dolphin swim experience at Orlando, FL Discovery Cove, and much more. (Hurry, get 4x the entries for the Grand Prize for each donation by Dec. 9th! Purchase a toy and get 100 entries, and more!)
Talk to Santa’s Elves
We’re sure you’re wondering, “What’s the connection between this unassuming powerhouse performer, her super star-studded sweepstakes, and NumberBarn?” We’re so glad you asked!
Yes, you can call 1-855-25-SANTA and speak directly with Santa’s Elves! “We are so very grateful for NumberGarage because when we first got started, we didn’t know how to have a customer service number. NumberGarage has been extremely useful and incredibly easy! It’s also been very affordable,” Jen mentions.
With voicemail messages and texts forwarding to the email inboxes of the Christmas Is Not Cancelled team, Jen appreciates that NumberGarage “makes it simple and convenient for us to have a number that we like, that’s simple to sort through and works really well.” (We’re so glad we can contribute, perhaps a bit behind-the-scenes, to keeping Christmas alive and thriving, especially for kids in need!)
Little Toys, Big Joys
Jen’s infectious exuberance and hopeful presence are both refreshing and inspiring. She’s currently trying to donate 25k toys to at-risk kids, “a scary and audacious goal that makes my stomach do backflips,” she confesses. Her real heart, however, is to encourage the true spirit of giving and help people recognize that they too can be heroes, even with limited resources.
“It’s the kind of message that says ‘We’re not asking you to change the whole world.’ It’s a message of collective impact and that every little bit counts. With individuals giving just one book or toy, we’ve already together raised over 10,000 toys,” she says. “Anyone can be a part of this. If you can’t afford to buy a toy, you can still spread the message with your friends, family or social media.”
Jen is convinced that small acts of kindness can make big impacts (and we wholeheartedly concur). The combined influence of individuals who have participated in Christmas Is Not Cancelled since its inception, is massive. With over $2.2 million dollars in “give back impact,” Christmas Is Not Cancelled (and each person who has contributed) has so far served over 72k children in need.
Motivated by her personal Christian faith, she doesn’t shy away from expressing her desire to infuse love into everything she does. “It’s truly the love of Jesus. I am so aware that Jesus loved me when I least deserved it and still don’t deserve it. You know, I’ll never, no one will ever be good enough to deserve God’s love and yet He loves us so much. So I take the commission seriously to love God and others well, and to love without judging people, meeting them where they are at.”
As for Christmas Is Not Cancelled, Jen says what excites her the most is “just empowering our audience to know that it’s small acts of kindness that change the world. You don’t have to wear a cape. You just have to be a willing vessel. And even if you don’t have $15 (which is a reality for some people and that was my reality when I first started acting,) you can still make an impact in whatever your sphere is.”
And That’s A Wrap
Thanks Jen and friends for your unwavering efforts to deliver merriment and connection to kids in foster care this Christmas through toys and gifts (most certainly wrapped in lots of love!
As a ClearHello company that prides itself in helping facilitate meaningful connections, we’re honored to hear how NumberGarage plays a small part in helping Christmas Is Not Cancelled serve disadvantaged children. Make sure to snag a custom phone number (like 855-25-SANTA) for your holiday campaign or business branding. For all your virtual phone system needs, find out more about how NumberGarage can help your company fulfill its vision.