CEDAR CITY —
For many, the holiday season is a time of stress and anxiety. Some children wake on Christmas morning with no gifts to open, but thanks to Southern Utah University’s Holiday Assistance program, families in need will be able to provide presents for their kids.
In a season of overspending and overindulgence, some families struggle to afford gifts, clothes and food for their children and themselves. The SUU Holiday Assistance program is helping hundreds of these families this holiday season.
“There is no reason any child should have to go without Christmas,” SUU student volunteer Amber DeSormeau said. “That’s why I do what I do. Whether or not they still believe in Santa, all children should wake up on Christmas morning and know someone cares about them.”
Seven years ago, SUU combined efforts with Iron County Holiday Assistance to give Christmas to families that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford much by way of holiday festivities. Their combined efforts created the Holiday Store, run by SUU’s Community Engagement Center.
Donations of both cash and goods were requested from businesses and individuals. They are brought to a central location where those in need can “shop” for gifts for their family at no expense, giving parents the ability to give a Christmas morning to their children.
“Having families choose what their children will be getting at the Holiday Store empowers them and has proven to be more effective than giving them a box of what we think would match the child’s interests,” said Pam Branin, associate director of the SUU Community Engagement Center.
The National Guard Armory in Cedar City hosts the Holiday Store. Every day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., volunteers are available to help parents pick out up to five gifts for their children. The array is impeccable with neat rows of tables labeled with gender and age.
“It’s just so rewarding to help out,” Carol Cheney, a volunteer with the program, said. “Each family I help out makes me cry.”
DeSormeau shopped with a mom and her nine-day-old baby and said the woman was grateful her newborn baby would have warm clothes to wear during Christmas.
“Families who come to the store really see the hidden gems in the gifts we have available,” DeSormeau said. “A lot of times, as volunteers, we look at our tables and only see what we can’t provide. These parents look and see all the wonderful gifts we can provide.”
“When one family found out that the entire program is supported through community donations,” Branin said, “the mom commented how she couldn’t believe what an amazing community we live in.”
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