The Elf Who Saved Christmas

“Christmas is doing a little extra for someone.”-Charles Schulz


Despite a Master’s level degree in organizational leadership and a successful career as a leader in education and sales, Tom Flanagan doesn’t like the title of “CEO.” No, for his latest project leading Secret Families of Hamilton County, he goes by “Head Elf.”


Tom’s goal, along with hundreds of volunteers who serve with him, is to save Christmas for struggling families. “I want to see a day where no child ever says, ‘Remember the year we didn’t have Christmas because…’”


You might think Hamilton County, Indiana is an odd place to be serving families struggling to make ends meet. “You can drive across Hamilton County and think you don’t see poverty, but it’s there,” Tom says. In fact, recent data suggests that on any one day, over 25,000 Hamilton County residents meet the standard of being “food insecure.” Additionally, 9500 students in Hamilton County are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.


“Think about it,” implores Tom. “That’s almost filling the Noblesville school system with children in need.” And because our county is so wealthy, Tom says, there’s a stigma attached in many areas about asking for help, so the number of families truly in need could be much greater than that.


Secret Families of Hamilton County is an expansion of a program started by Al Holdren in Delaware County 15 years ago. The program works with local elementary schools to identify families who are struggling due to illness, job loss and other reasons that might impact their income.


Tom, a retired teacher and sales executive, started out helping with the Delaware County program. In 2014, he and Al decided to branch out to serve Hamilton County. That first year, they served nine families. Last year they served over 50 families affecting 300 children and adults.


Each year, Secret Families raises funds and recruits volunteers to go shopping for needy families. The cost for each family is $550 and includes a fully decorated tree, presents for the family, a gift card to buy a Christmas dinner, a Bible and an assortment of household and personal items.


Each family they serve has their own story of hardship. The goal of Secret Families is to change that story from one of despair to one of hope. “We’re working one story at a time,” Tom says.


Secret Families is a faith-based organization, although not affiliated with any denomination or church. Tom takes to heart the biblical instruction to “Love thy neighbor.” According to him, “These are our neighbors, so it’s our job to do this, and this is a way to do it.”


If you’d like to get involved with this work helping your neighbors, Secret Families is always looking for help. In addition to donations, they’re looking for more “elves” to help shop for gifts, wrap presents, decorate trees and deliver Christmas to each family.


Secret Families also depends on partnerships with local businesses. Wasson’s supplies the trees and decorations, Meijer helps with the gifts, and Anchor Chiropractic, City BBQ, Jim Dandy’s Restaurant, Chuy’s at Hamilton Town Center and Jaggers have all stepped up to help raise funds.


You can find out more about Secret Families at You can also contact Tom at or by phone at 317-363-8431. Tom is quick to point out that while he’s the “head elf,” it’s the volunteers that really make the work that Secret Families does possible.


“We believe Christmas is truly Christmas when we celebrate by sharing the light of Love to those who need it,” Tom says.

For all the Christmases he’s saved and all that he’s going to save, we salute Tom Flanagan, one of the true Difference Makers in Hamilton County.

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