Stella Wrubel’s bookshelves are stacked with classics I remember from my own childhood: Eloise, the Madeline series, Angelina Ballerina, The Secret Garden.
Curled up in sitting chairs in her room, we bond over a shared love of reading as she shows me some of her current favorite things, including a large rock from a family trip to Italy (she named it Edgar) and this year’s Halloween costume, sewn using her own Singer machine: the “Hocka-wolf,” she calls it, a transforming werewolf partially fashioned from her Hockaday School uniform.
Stella then reaches for another book, Iggy Peck Architect, exuberantly reciting excerpts about a toddler determined to prove that, despite his age, he can still show the world his talents.
Like Iggy, Stella is petite in size but marvelously persevering, especially when it comes to philanthropy. In 2012, the then-6-year-old daughter of Dallas photographer Steve Wrubel and DJ Lucy Wrubel launched her own business, Jingle Bell Mistletoe, selling thickets of the evergreen plant wrapped in bows and bells every December in Highland Park Village.
Stella’s idea blossomed from her desire to make a difference as she watched Hurricane Sandy wreak havoc on New York, where her godfather lived. “I thought, ‘I’m just a kid, so I can’t do anything,’ ” she says. “Then my mom said, ‘Have I taught you nothing? You’re a kid, so you can do anything!’ ”
Her first year, Stella raised $2,000 for the American Red Cross. She collected $8,000 for the organization in 2013. In 2014, she recruited Quinn Graves, a friend she “played dragons” with on the swings during recess in second grade; he’d visited her mistletoe stands before and wanted to help.
On advice from Stella’s aunt, Katherine Perot Reeves, the duo donated $18,000 that year to the North Texas Food Bank, an amount that included corporate matches for its “$1 feeds 3 people” campaign.
The numbers soar quickly from there, particularly due to the 2015 addition of two more Jingle Bell team members, Isabella Dickason and Trevor Godkin — the foursome raised $39,000 in 2015 and $37,000 last year.
This month, which marks the sixth anniversary of Jingle Bell Mistletoe, Stella and her squad are aiming for $60,000. Their hope is that, eventually, kids are selling mistletoe in every county the NTFB serves.
Back at the Wrubel home, Stella is teaching me the history of mistletoe: “Did you know it’s a virus that kills trees? It grows on live oaks.”
When I inquire where in North Texas she finds it (the family ranch in Bosque County, Circle 13 Ranch in Clifton, the Perini Ranch in Buffalo Gap), her response is laced with the wit and observation of a very sharp 12-year-old.
“The four dads go out with my grandpa to cut mistletoe down from trees,” she says. “Over the years, my grandpa has sort of taken up the role of head of acquisitions. He’s like the general: He tells them where to look and what to do.”
In addition to mistletoe bouquets sold at Highland Park Village, donations are accepted on the group’s website. Spreading the word on social media is encouraged with #kissandtella on cute pics of participants under the mistletoe.
This year, catch the quartet outside Royal Blue Grocery, Friday, December 15 through Monday, December 18, each in their respective roles — Stella as founder; Quinn, vice president; Isabella, saleswoman; and Trevor, secretary.
When our conversation wraps, Stella readies for her portrait with her adorable 1 1/2-year-old poodle, Dolly, and hums along as her dad plays Jake Bugg’s “Lightning Bolt” on his iPhone.
The following day, she has a robotics meeting (“Programming a robot is like advanced Legos”), but for now, she and her team are focused on their festive winter fund-raiser.
“I’ve always loved doing charity work,” Stella says, recalling her pre-mistletoe days when she managed lemonade stands to raise money for the SPCA. “I get such a rush from helping a puppy get a bed, or helping someone have food for their family.”
Age: 12. Occupation: Charitable wunderkind. Tools of the Trade: Generosity. Good friends. Lots of mistletoe.
To read our exclusive Q&A with the entire Mistletoe Kid Squad, click here.