Annual Sub for Santa program bringing Christmas cheer to Utah County

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BYU students don’t have to wait until they are parents to experience the fun of playing Santa Claus.

Volunteers for the United Way Sub for Santa program deliver a van-load of presents for families in need of assistance during the holiday season.
Volunteers for the United Way Sub for Santa program deliver a van-load of presents for families in need of assistance during the holiday season. (Photo courtesy United Way)

The United Way of Utah County is sponsoring its annual Sub for Santa program, striving to bring Christmas cheer to underprivileged families in the region.

“The purpose is to ensure that all children can enjoy a really positive holiday season,” said Michaelann Gardner, communications manager for United Way of Utah County. “We also use it as a vehicle to let their parents know about other resources available to them year-round to help their families be more sustainable.”

Last year, the program served 1,800 families, a demographic representing more than 5,000 children. This year, demand seems to be down despite economic struggles affecting other aspects of nonprofit work.

“We are hoping that all families this year that need assistance are applying assistance,” Gardner said. “We have been surprised that there have been less applicants this year than typical, which we think is wonderful news if these families are doing well, but we do hope that anyone out there that does need assistance and hasn’t heard about our program would apply.”

BYU students have a long history of involvement in the program, with many volunteering at Sub for Santa workshops to help sign families up for the program, volunteering to deliver presents or even sponsoring families.

Volunteers look at the load of presents delivered to United Way as part of the Sub for Santa program.
Volunteers look at the load of presents delivered to United Way as part of the Sub for Santa program. (Photo courtesy United Way)

One woman who received assistance from three students several years ago was so touched by the service she received that she is returning the favor this year by sponsoring a family.

“United Way’s Sub for Santa program is unique because we offer a custom experience for both sponsors and applicants,” said Jenn Kilstrom, the program’s director. “Sponsors have direct contact with the local families they are helping.”

The Marriott School of Management is extensively involved. For several years, the school’s student council has sponsored a drive for gifts to support the program. Each year they average approximately 600 gifts. Elizabeth Hilton, vice president of events and program director, has loved being involved and was even inspired to run for student council because of the program.

“I love to be involved with fundraising activities, especially those for children,” Hilton said. “I’m oldest of nine kids, so I’ve seen children’s faces when they open presents on Christmas. I want to help make sure local children have something to open on Christmas day.”

Many residents choose to donate money to buy presents for families who would otherwise do without.The United Way is still looking for volunteers to help at workshops or to deliver presents. Those interested can call 801–377–6600 for more information. Those wishing to support the Marriott School project can visit marriottstudent.com.

“Our community members do a great job, year after year, making sure that no family goes without Christmas,” said Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way of Utah County. “I know we’ll do the same this year as well.”

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