Bailey Bennett is an adorable brown-haired 8-year-old who lives with her mother in Oak Grove. Bailey loves horses and rodeos and the Disney Channel, especially “Good Luck Charlie” and “Jessie.”
But Bailey also has stage-four neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer.
So earlier this month, in an effort to make her holiday season special, an anonymous group of Kansas City do-gooders known as the Elves of Christmas Present helped arrange for Bailey an early Christmas visit from Santa.
As it happens, Bailey had been asking for an Elf on the Shelf, that mischievous Christmas toy found in the homes of countless families across the country.
But instead of bringing her a typical elf, Santa brought her “Peppermint” — a special version complete with a full backstory and a mandate to serve as Bailey’s own personal elf this Christmas.
While Peppermint might look like your average, everyday Elf on a Shelf — lanky arms and legs, blue eyes, rosy cheeks, about a foot tall — she is actually much, much more.
“Supposedly, this elf is in training,” said Tina Butler, Bailey’s grandmother. “So she has to report back in with Santa and go visit other kids.
“But she is Bailey’s special elf.”
As Bailey’s special elf, Peppermint’s primary job is to make this Christmas memorable. So at night, in an effort to give Bailey a glimpse into places she can’t easily see from her bed, Peppermint takes off on all kinds of worldly adventures.
In the past few weeks, Peppermint has popped up at Kauffman Stadium with Sluggerrr, with Rob Riggle at Arrowhead. She’s been to SeaWorld in Orlando and hung out with a guinea pig in Connecticut. Just the other day, she was out gallivanting in Myrtle Beach, S.C., enjoying the beach.
Bailey knows all this because a legion of people from around the world have been snapping pictures of “Peppermint” in interesting places and then posting them to a Facebook page dedicated to Bailey.
When Bailey takes her daily nap, the elf “disappears” to go on her adventures. Bailey always knows it’s really Peppermint in the photos thanks to the elf’s most notable characteristic — a black left mitten.
So far, the Facebook page has nearly 4,000 likes, and people from as far as Italy and the United Kingdom have become fans.
“It’s unreal to me that people don’t even know her, and they’re trying to make her day better or trying to make her smile or praying for her,” says her mother, Nichole Polen.
When Peppermint isn’t out exploring the world, she is at home arranging special events for Bailey.
Last week, she organized a dinner and limo ride through the Country Club Plaza for Bailey and her family, because she knows how much Bailey loves Christmas lights. And recently, she helped deliver presents to kids at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, because she knows Bailey would like that.
Sometimes, she taps into her elf mischief.
She caused a bit of a stir in downtown Oak Grove recently when city officials discovered that the mayor’s Christmas tree had disappeared from its perch in front of city hall.
Turned out, Peppermint had figured the tree would be better served right outside Bailey’s front door, where she could look at it whenever she wants.
And so that’s where Peppermint put it.
“We’re still a little confused that that little-bitty elf was able to move that big tree,” said Oak Grove mayor Mark Fulks. “But we’re just very pleased that it’s there where (Bailey) can enjoy it every day.”
The best part of all is that all of the elf’s work seems to be helping.
Since Peppermint showed up, Bailey has had something to look forward to. Every day, she sits down with her mom or grandmother at the computer and looks through the latest Peppermint photos. She got a big kick out of the one of Peppermint in Hawaii, and the one from Alaska, with a reindeer in the background.
“She wakes up and she wants to know where Peppermint’s at,” said Polen. “And at some point during the day, she always wants to get (online) and find out where she is, and how crazy she’s been.”
“Peppermint gives her that extra little ‘want’ to do something,” adds Butler.
And for Bailey’s family, seeing the effect it’s had on the girl has been a welcome part of this holiday season.
“All we can say is it’s that many more prayers we have out there for her, because that many people know about her now,” says Butler. “It’s unbelievable.”