Dan is an older man with a long white beard. When he walks in the room, everyone immediately asks how his elves are doing. As a “fill-in” for Santa during the holidays, Dan is more than used to it.

When Dan walked into the Cedar City National Guard Armory one cold Thursday in December, however, the roles were reversed. Like over 350 other families in Iron County every year, Dan’s family was in a rough spot and needed a helping hand to get through the holiday season.

Dan’s nine-year-old granddaughter, Mackenzie, would be with them that Christmas and, as much as he hated to admit it, Dan knew the medical bills were high and the grocery budget was low. The gift budget was practically non-existent. He knew he needed help to keep the magic of Christmas alive for Mackenzie.

The armory gym filled with IMG_2593toys certainly was a site to behold for anyone who walked through the doors. The Iron County Holiday Assistance (ICHA) program, which distributes gifts and food to low-income families during the holidays, had turned the space, quite literally, into Santa’s workshop. While volunteers saw donations of toys, families receiving assistance saw hope.

I was the lucky volunteer who got to “shop” with Dan as he chose gifts for his granddaughter. Families receiving gifts from ICHA choose a small ($5 value), medium ($15 value) and large ($20 value) gift as well as two stocking stuffers ( under $5 value) for each child they apply for. This meant that Mackenzie was getting the art kit she had been asking for since her birthday and a new pink backpack for school.

IMG_2522Gifts are donations from community members in the form of new toys or monetary donations used to purchase toys for boys and girls ages 0-17. In partnership with Toys for Tots, each child gets at least three gifts. For Mackenzie, that meant getting a new bike for Christmas.

Dan was so grateful for the gifts and food as we walked out to load his truck. He expressed so much gratitude for our work through tears and hugs.

Dan left that day with more than just gifts for Mackenzie. He left with the piece of mind that him and his family were a valuable part of a community that cares for one another.

For children, it’s not really about toys or the commercialization of Christmas, it’s about the gesture that shows them someone loves them.

The ICHA program helps distribute toys to almost 1,000 children in Iron County every year because no child should ever have to go without Christmas. It is programs like these that help remind our community how much we care.

If you are interested in donating or volunteering with ICHA, visit the Community Engagement Center.

To get involved with holiday assistance programs in your area, visit Toys for Tots.