University saves Christmas for families

Published: December 11, 2015 | Read Time: 2 minutes

University saves Christmas for familiesThe night before Christmas, and all through the house decorations were sparse but hung with care. A few presents were neatly wrapped, and canned goods lined the counter, usually bare, all thanks to Southern Utah University’s Holiday Assistance program.

In a season of over spending and over indulgence, 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,” said SUU student volunteer Amber DeSormeau, “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 (ICHA) 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 business and individuals. They are brought to a central location where those in need “shopped” 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 Community Engagement Center at SUU.

The National Guard Armory on airport road, in Cedar City, hosts the holiday store. Every day from 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. 

Carol Cheney, a volunteer with the Holiday Assistance program, said, "It's just so rewarding to help out. Each family I help out makes me cry." 

DeSormeau said she was able to shop with a mom and her nine-day-old baby, and the woman was so grateful that her newborn baby would have warm clothes to wear during Christmas.

She said, “Families who come to the store really see the hidden gems in the gifts we have available. 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.”

Branin said of the program, "When one family found out that the entire program is supported through community donations, the mom commented how she couldn't believe what an amazing community we live in."

Southern Utah University is located in Cedar City, Utah, offering 150 degree programs, and has been awarded the national Presidential Service Award for outstanding community service.   

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