SALT LAKE CITY — With a swipe of a pen, billionaire businessman Jon Huntsman Sr. pledged $1.2 million Tuesday to the Road Home as part of the downtown homeless shelter's annual holiday fundraiser.
"This check is for $1.2 million," Huntsman said, displaying the check in the studios of KSFI-FM, known as FM 100.3, where he recorded a public service announcement encouraging donations to the Road Home.
"But those checks for $25 or $50 or $100 are just as important, and they’re just as meaningful, and they’ll count just as much in the eyes of the people who receive them," he said.
The Hunstman family has been a longtime supporter of the Road Home, first donating $1 million to the shelter in January 1992.
Since then, the Jon M. Huntsman Community Shelter Trust has provided $5.26 million for operations and upkeep to the shelter, in addition to a current balance of more than $9 million.
"It’s cold, people are hungry and this is a difficult time for survival," Huntsman said. "It’s the time they need the money the most."
Matt Minkevitch, executive director of the Road Home, said the shelter has benefitted greatly over the years from the Huntsman family, and "it’s particularly inspiring to know their generosity is matched by community support."
In fiscal 2017, the Road Home sheltered more than 8,000 people, including 1,460 children, according to the organization's website. Sheltering one person for one night costs about $12, according to the Road Home.
Last year, the shelter helped more than 11,100 people escape homelessness, according to its annual report.
The Road Home currently operates two Utah shelters, one in downtown Salt Lake serving single men and women, and another in Midvale serving families with children.
In August 2017, city officials initiated Operation Rio Grande, a three-phase plan to restore public safety and order in the area near the Road Home's downtown shelter.
The 1,100-bed Salt Lake shelter is scheduled to close in 2019 after three new homeless resource centers open in Salt Lake and South Salt Lake.
Though homelessness may seem like a problem that never changes, Minkevitch said he continually sees people moving out of the shelter and into housing.
"Every day, people are overcoming all sorts of personal barriers," he said. "This is why we exist — to help people get out of the cold, get off of the streets, but also to get out of a shelter and get into housing."
Huntsman said donating to trusted providers such as the Road Home helps homeless individuals far more than by giving money to panhandlers. He also praised the financial transparency and accountability of shelter officials.
"None of it is wasted, not one penny," Huntsman said of the donations.
A dozen local radio stations had raised more than $42,580 in donations as of Tuesday afternoon for the Road Home's Holiday Media-a-Thon.
Along with monetary donations, the Road Home is accepting basic items such as hygiene products, blankets, clothing and other necessities during the winter months.
"I think the people of Utah are very, very generous people," Huntsman said. "I think when they know that these funds are needed, that they’ll come to the rescue, and they’ll dig deep into their pockets."
The Holiday Media-a-Thon runs Dec. 20-21, with media stations broadcasting live from the shelter and encouraging listeners to donate in-kind items or make a financial contribution, according to the Road Home.