Thousands of Granite kids await Christmas help
One little girl lives with her 84-year-old grandmother who can't afford Christmas gifts.
A teenage girl who has been moving from home to home since her parents went to prison needs a winter coat.
A third child showed up at school in sandals despite the single-digit chill.
They are just a few of the overwhelming number of requests for help the Granite Education Foundation has received in recent weeks. The foundation, which helps Granite's neediest students get coats, clothes, school supplies and presents each year, is getting so many requests that CEO Brent Severe says for the first time probably won't be able to fill them all.
"As much as it just pulls at our heartstrings ... the needs far outweigh the means," Severe said.
He said the foundation is fielding two to three times as many pleas as usual, about 30 to 40 requests a day, mostly from school workers who see the challenges kids face firsthand. So far, the foundation has helped about 2,000 Granite School District kids, but school administrators, counselors, social workers and psychologists have identified 8,000 more still in need of help.
"For a lot of these kids, what we're hoping to give them for Christmas is just to meet their basic needs because their needs aren't being met at home," Severe said.
"What's alarming to me is, I think in Utah, we seem a little naive. We think our neighbors don't have these issues, but there are people in our neighborhoods and communities who have fallen on hard times and don't know where to turn," Severe said.
He said he's not sure what's behind the sudden swell in requests.
But educators have noticed the increase across the district. Granite is the state's third largest school district with 68,000 students, about half of whom qualify for free and reduced-price lunches because of their parents' income levels.
Jill Holloway, a social worker for Granite's preschool programs, said last year she asked the foundation for help for 28 kids. This year, she's already put in 114 requests since September.
However, the increase at the preschool level could be because Granite added 600 at-risk preschoolers through a grant this year, she said.
Holloway said she gets most of her requests from teachers who may notice kids coming to class without coats or shoes.
Kathy Newton, who heads a foundation committee that puts together bags of clothes, toiletries, books, toys and school supplies for kids in need each year, said schools requested more than 1,400 of the "Santa Sacks" this year. That's compared with about 350 four years ago.
"Sometimes we think things are getting better," Newton said, "and then you have this happen and realize that, at least for a segment of our community, things are not getting that much better."
How to help
P The Granite Education Foundation is looking for donations of money, books, school supplies, backpacks, new toys (not gift-wrapped), notebooks and underwear. To find out more, go to granitecaring.org or call 385-646-GIVE.