SALT LAKE CITY — The people at Candy Cane Corner want to give homeless families an authentic, happy Christmas shopping experience.
The pop-up store is a joint effort between the Road Home, Volunteers of America and YWCA. Volunteers have worked since Thanksgiving weekend to prepare for Saturday's opening day, transforming a vacant warehouse space into a retail store, complete with welcoming Christmas decorations.
Now in its 19th year, Candy Cane Corner offers parents enrolled in the three agencies' programs an opportunity to go in with a case manager up until Dec. 23 to pick out brand new items for their families during the holiday season, as well as a few gifts for themselves as well.
"Oftentimes, parents will give all the new items to their kids and not take anything for themselves," said Taylor Winsness of the Road Home. "But the Candy Cane Corner gives parents an opportunity to get items for themselves, too."
The store's purpose is to help families currently in homeless shelters, as well as former clients who are now in rehousing programs. Some exceptions can also be made for those who are in especially vulnerable situations.
Jayme Anderson, of Volunteers of America, loves that Candy Cane Corner gives families the traditional Christmas that they wouldn't have otherwise.
"Just to see the reactions in their faces when they come in, it's pretty amazing," Anderson said.
Case managers bring clients in with a voucher sheet that tells them what items and how many they can choose. Generally, it's a few clothing items for each individual parent and child, two toys for each child, along with a stocking filled with 10 hand-picked stocking stuffers. Diapers and other staple baby supplies are available, too.
The parents get to shop and choose what to give their children within these parameters, which makes the experience more empowering than receiving secondhand donations, Winsness said.
Candy Cane Corner also has an area where parents can wrap their kids' presents, pick up wrapping supplies or have a volunteer wrap for them.
All items, from clothing to toys to diapers, are new and unused donations from the community. This, organizers said, helps visitors to the store to have a true Christmas shopping experience, just like any other family.
The store has most items in stock for Saturday's opening, but organizers say they are in desperate need of women's winter coats.
There is also a need for more men's coats and men's and women's underwear, particularly in larger sizes.
They will continue to need more donations throughout the rest of December to stock the shelves as families come through and pick out their gifts.
Donations to the store must be unused, but those who wish to donate used clothing or items can take them to the individual agencies' offices.
Volunteers are needed through the whole month, and, although most slots are already full, people can sign up on candycanecornerslc.org. Organizers noted that there are always cancellations and they're always happy to have a few extra hands, even if someone wants to just stop by for a bit.
"The volunteers get so much out of being here, because they directly get to help people," said Annie Studer of YWCA. "It's rewarding, and it's fun."
Becki Bradford and Leslie Motley, who have both volunteered at the store for years, find it very rewarding to see those in need picking out gifts for themselves and their families.
"They're just so overcome with joy that it makes my whole day. I could be here every day and watch it and be part of it," Bradford said.
"When they're at the shelters," Motley added, "they're probably receiving hand-me-downs — which, there's nothing wrong with that. But isn't it great that at the holiday times, they can get something new?"
Candy Cane Corner is located in the former Utah PaperBox Building at 340 W. 200 South, although the main entrance is on 400 West, near the Planetarium TRAX station. It is open for volunteers and donations Monday-Friday, from noon-7 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday, from noon-5 p.m.