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Success stories found in Sub for Santa helping Utah families at Christmas, year-round

November 23, 2018

Becki LeFevre gives her daughter, Kourtni LeFevre, 6, a big push on the swings at Cherryhill Park on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, in Orem.

This year’s Christmas, while meager, is a celebration for Becki Lefevre, and her husband Richard. The Orem family has their health and their children around them. It has not always been that way.

The family’s story is similar to many of those who seek the help of United Way of Utah County’s Sub for Santa program. Some have lost jobs, have major medical bills and others have great hurdles to overcome.

The family’s journey started about six years ago.

Both Richard and Becki struggled with heroin addiction for six years. They came to a realization they didn’t want to be selfish anymore and put their kids first.

“Yes, it sucked losing them to the state, but without their help we wouldn’t be here sober and stable and have full custody of our children,” Lefevre said, in an email to the Daily Herald.

“We love to also reach out to those people that are struggling too and let them know they can do it.” Lefevre said.

Lefevre said they have tried and are becoming a success story as well and want to show others in that same path, that it’s all possible and it doesn’t have to end with a broken family before it all can get better.

The couple are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and say their support system includes their ward family, the treatment centers they have been in, and the Division of Children and Family Services case worker.

“We are not afraid to say what we are and what we come from,” she said. “Before we were always afraid of what people thought, and we were very afraid of how people would look down on us because of our struggles and our addictions.”

But not now it is completely different Lefevre said.

“In the last two years of sobriety, we as a family are loving living life among normal functioning people,” Lefevre said in an email. “We are asking for help this Christmas because we can only make ends meet. We have nothing left after all our bills to provide our children with a good Christmas and just because we do not make enough money yet we don’t want to see our children go without anymore then they already have to.”

This is where the Sub for Santa and the giving of strangers helps not just Becki’s family and their desires but hundreds of families and children.

Sub for Santa, the annual Christmas giving program, has been under the direction of the United Way of Utah County for 36 years. Prior to that DCFS ran the program.

Looking back at more than three decades of giving, Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way of Utah County, notes the number of families and particularly children that have been served by individuals and families disguised as Santa’s helpers.

“Back in 1983 we had a couple hundred families,” Hulterstrom said. “In 2000 there were 249 families that included 868 children.”

During the recession in 2009 the numbers peaked at 2,350 families that included 7,000 children. Last year the 2017 count was down to 1,578 families and 4,371 children served.

The gifts are simple and Hulterstrom said books and school clothing are the most important to help children among their peers.

But Sub for Santa has become much more than just a holiday giving event. It is now the spring board for longer lasting help to families like the Lefevres.

“As families apply we connect them with year-round programs that go beyond Christmas, “ Hulterstrom said.

One of the efforts that is constant is to make sure that families learn to care for themselves with training and other guidance.

“One of the struggles we have is well-intended groups that don’t coordinate their efforts,” Hulterstom said.

Hulterstrom said that sometimes there is too much given and families, particularly children, receive unrealistic Christmas gifts. That can be harmful and set too high a standard.

The Sub for Santa organization asks for a few clothing items, a couple of books and one or two toys. If there is uncertainty on gifts, Hulterstrom would like them to err on the side of book giving.

“We have never not met the needs historically,” Hulterstrom said. He added that in past years they have worked to get gifts to families all the way to Christmas Eve.

“The last few years we’ve been done as much as four days before Christmas,” Hulterstrom said.

In past years they have also had many random gifts given that Sub for Santa has been able to help in rural communities where the program is not found.

Sub for Santa also sponsors the Giving Trees or Angel Trees at various businesses. Some are specific to help special needs residents and adults in need.

“We work a lot with agencies to know who is truly in need,” said Miranda Emerson, seasonal program coordinator at United Way. “It’s a great opportunity for us at United Way to know who needs help year round.”

According to Emerson, there will be 16 open house events during the holidays, many have already happened, where people who need help can register. The last will be on Dec. 7.

Emerson said there are basically three categories families need to qualify for to received Sub for Santa help.

Families need to show income verification compared to expenses; tell the family situation, and if you feel you’re in need there needs to be documentation that you can verify.

“I love seeing how excited volunteers get in help,” Emerson said. “I think we’re a pretty cool program.”

For those who may not be able to attend a Sub for Santa open house, they can register online at www.subforsanta.org.

For information call 801-374-2588.

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