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Christmas helpers wrap thousands of gifts for low-income families

WEST VALLEY CITY — Busy helpers wrapped thousands of children's gifts at the Valley Fair Mall on Tuesday, creating a Santa's Workshop-type atmosphere.

The gifts, collected as part of the West Valley City Police Department's annual Giving Tree program, will be distributed to more than 170 children from 61 low-income families on Wednesday during a private event.

Each recipient will receive a coat, shoes, shirts, pants and other gifts, said program founder Devin Novara, detective for the police department.

Police received most of the names of families to help from Head Start, an early childhood development program serving low-income children, Novara said. Police then invited these children to write down their clothing sizes and what they wanted for Christmas.

"Most of these kids will put down that they want a blanket, that they want new boots, so we try to say 'That's great. We'll get you that, but what else do you want?'" Novara said. "We make sure they get the fun stuff, too, not just the necessities."

Among the "fun" gifts are dolls, 40 bikes and one laptop, Novara said.

"We realize these are things these kids will probably never get again, so if they want an iPod, we try to do it," he said.

Several local businesses sponsored kids by paying for their Christmas gifts and delivering them to the West Valley Police Department, Novara said.

Police wrote the first name and gender of the remaining 100 children on ornaments that were placed on Christmas trees in the Valley Fair Mall.

Courtney Frehner said she and her colleagues at the West Valley Justice Court chose an ornament and bought presents for a little girl. Employees at the justice court take part in the Giving Tree Program yearly, Frehner said, and she tries to get as involved as possible.

"I don't have any children, so I like to help the kids if I can," Frehner said. "It just makes me happy."

Frehner helped wrap Giving Tree gifts Tuesday at the mall and said she was planning to help police distribute the gifts Wednesday.

Michelle Tonga, who works for Head Start, was also among the dozens of wrapping volunteers at Tuesday's event and came with her two teenage children.

Savina Tonga, 16, said she's happy her mom allowed her to wrap presents for the Giving Tree —and not only because it got her out of class.

"I like that I am helping other people out. It makes me feel good. I think it helps add to the Christmas spirit," she said. "It's not only that these families want it, but it's that they need it, too."


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