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Children in more than 350 Utah County families may be skipped by Santa this year

Sub for Santa program served record number of families but has largest number of families ever not yet adopted

SHARE Children in more than 350 Utah County families may be skipped by Santa this year
Becky Dalton smiles after receiving a United Way Sub for Santa package for her children from Gary Seastrand.

Becky Dalton smiles after receiving a United Way Sub for Santa package for her children from Gary Seastrand in Provo on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

There’s a hint of panic in Bill Hulterstrom’s voice when he talks about Utah County’s Sub for Santa program. With Christmas just one week away, 360 families had not yet been matched with donors by Monday afternoon, so lots of kids might be skipped by Santa Claus in what Hulterstrom calls a very difficult year.

It’s the most families not sponsored that the United Way program has ever faced right before Christmas, he said — in a year where they’ve helped more needy families than ever before.

Santa definitely could use some outside help.

The program has had a record number of applicants who have gone through what he describes as fairly rigorous screening to assess their needs. The surrounding community has also already provided a great response, with lots of willing sponsors. So far, they’ve matched 2,227 families that combined include 6,602 individuals with willing Santa’s helpers.

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Alyssa Dixon stacks toys as volunteers from BYU’s McKay School of Education sort items at the United Way Sub for Santa distribution center in Provo on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

But Hulterstrom, the United Way of Utah County president and CEO, says he’s a bit heartsick at the idea of children awakening to no gifts on Christmas morning.

He told Deseret News that 53% of the families that have signed up for assistance have never received help from the program in the past. Some of the families have been the elves that lightened Santa’s load in previous years, but this year has been tough on them and they now need help themselves. He also said he’s been happy to see many young couples who say their families were helped when they were little and they now want to return the favor.

But it’s been an extraordinarily difficult year for some families.

“We think housing costs and inflation are putting people in need,” Hulterstrom said. “It’s making it harder for some who normally step up at the end and fill remaining gaps to be able to step up this year.”

But Hulterstrom and the Sub for Santa program have also seen the brighter side of tough economic times: more families banding together and shopping for others as a team, as well as groups of neighbors or friends who sponsor a family if they can’t afford to do it by themselves. “That’s the rewarding part.”

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John Patten works on books as volunteers from BYU’s McKay School of Education sort items at the United Way Sub for Santa distribution center in Provo on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The program is designed to provide more lasting assistance than just a few small gifts on Christmas morning. The effort includes “trying to connect families in need to long-term resources,” Hulterstrom said.

But the importance of those few small gifts can’t be discounted, either — especially for young children who await Santa’s arrival. Donors who sponsor children are asked to provide at least two articles of clothing, a couple of toys or games and three books to help build the child’s personal library.

The program hopes to make it easy for people to help out at their comfort level, so folks can choose to donate money and someone else will do the shopping. Or donors can do the shopping themselves. For those who want to deliver items to the families, that’s great. But volunteers will do it for anyone who would rather not make the delivery themselves.

Hulterstrom has been touched, over the years, by the reaction of recipients. “The stories of gratitude we get from some of these families is overwhelming,” said Hulterstrom, who notes a cycle of giving. People who receive now are often a future year’s sponsors.

To donate or volunteer to sponsor a family, visit subforsanta.org. Or call 801-356-6300.

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Volunteers from BYU’s McKay School of Education sort items at the United Way Sub for Santa distribution center in Provo on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News