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Charities, volunteers unite to allow low-income families to shop for holiday gifts

SALT LAKE CITY — From an empty gym to a filled holiday shop, the Granite High School pool house has undergone what Kim Smart called a "total transformation."

Shelves line the room, displaying toys, games, stocking stuffers and clothes by category, creating the appearance of store aisles.

Until Dec. 23, the building will be known as Candy Cane Corner, where low-income parents involved with programs through The Road Home, Volunteers of America Utah and the YWCA will choose holiday gifts for themselves and their children.

"People are used to Sub for Santa or Toys for Tots, but this charity is a store where parents can come in just like they are shopping, but they don't have to pay," said Smart, who's been volunteering with Candy Cane Corner since 2006. "They can pick the right sizes. They know their children more, and they know what they will like, instead of someone else handing them a gift."

Parents choose their gifts right down to the wrapping paper and ribbons. All items in the store are new, which may be a relief to families used to second-hand items, Smart said.

Although the location of the shop changes, Candy Cane Corner been going on every December for 19 years. Last year, the shop provided holiday assistance to more than 369 families, including 801 adults and 1,785 children.

Celeste Eggert, director of development and community relations for The Road Home, said she expects a similar need this year.

Community volunteers each year provide the goods for the store and volunteer their time to set up and organize the shop. Caseworkers from The Road Home, Volunteers of America Utah and the YWCA then assist families in getting the holiday gifts they need.

Volunteers donated 750 hours this year to set up Candy Cane Corner for its opening Monday, according to Yen Nguyen, of YWCA. Anyone who wants to get involved is welcome to join the effort, she said, because there are still thousands of volunteer hours available.

Lisa Bezdjian, of Sandy, has volunteered in the store for the past three years. Bezdjian, her brother and mother decided they wanted to give back for Christmas instead of giving more to each other, she said.

Bezdjian has mostly stocked the shelves at Candy Cane Corner and has never met the people her service has influenced, but she said she feels a personal connection to them because she works in the infant unit at LDS Hospital and some of the mothers are discharged back to The Road Home.

"It's a wake-up call of how there are so many people who need so much," Bezdjain said through tears. "I just feel so fortunate to have all the things I need and a roof over my head, so I want to be able to help people who don't have the necessities of life."

Community members have already donated hundreds of items for the holiday store, but more is still needed, Eggert said.

The most-needed items include new clothing, shoes and boots, and gift items for teens. Donations can be dropped off directly at Candy Cane Corner, 3305 S. 500 East. The store is open noon-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.


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