Sub for Santa making Christmas happen for Utah County families

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Families who submit eligibility paperwork may be approved for the Sub for Santa program. Photo illustration by Chris Bunker

It’s a frosty Christmas morning. Bright-eyed children race down the stairs in their footed pajamas and squeal as they spot gifts under the tree. Shiny paper. Ribbon. Joy. But if it weren’t for local Christmas assistance programs, this scenario would not be possible for thousands of families.

United Way of Utah County recently opened another year of Sub for Santa, a Christmas giving program which provides needy families with Christmas gifts through sponsors. And they’re not just asking families to sign up for assistance. Sub for Santa’s branch at BYU is asking for student volunteers to make that Christmas morning¬†experience a reality for families in the community.

Sub for Santa is currently seeking 25 to 50 BYU volunteers and needs Spanish speakers as well. Volunteers then sign up on a google.doc for one- to two-hour slots which fit their schedules.

Families must provide eligibility paperwork covering such topics as employment status, income, disability, etc. BYU student volunteers help families get their paperwork organized so they can be approved. “In the past, they haven’t really had help filling it out,” said Bill Frei, an exercise science major and one of BYU’s program directors. “So when there have been discrepancies on their paperwork, they weren’t able to receive the help they (needed).”

“It kind of opens your eyes to the reality of some people’s situations, to how much people really need help,” Frei said. “Even though I can’t necessarily provide money or gifts, I can be there to help them through the process.”

Jenn Kilstrom, Utah County’s United Way Sub for Santa director, explained the double benefit of the program in a recent press release. ‚ÄúSub for Santa comes at a great time to give, but it also can be an opportunity to teach sustainable financial stability for the long-term,” she said.

Families don’t only receive gifts; parents attend a workshop where they are taught basic budgeting skills and learn how to create affordable Christmas traditions for their families. Workshops are taught in English and Spanish.

Sub for Santa reached 5,000 Utah County children last year alone, as reported in a press release from United Way.

“With children it’s hard knowing you don’t have money to get stuff,” said Kathryn Rasmussen, a pre-photography major from Hillsboro, Ore. “Christmas is supposed to be a time of service and love, so it’s good to help others.”

Rasmussen believes students can still make an impact this holiday season without impacting their wallets. “Even though as college students we don’t have as much money, it’s an easy way to help,” she said.

This is Stephen Thomas’s third year volunteering at Sub for Santa, and this year he is one of the program directors. The senior from Nampa, Idaho, said it was easy to fall in love with the program and the joy it brings to families. The mission of the program struck a personal note for Thomas.

“The thought of these parents coming in makes me think about how my mom felt when she was trying to provide a good Christmas for us kids,” he said. “We help these parents provide a better Christmas for their children, and the end result is going to be these happy children on Christmas day. The thought of that keeps me coming back for it.”

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