SALT LAKE CITY — It was a cold and rainy Sunday, but you wouldn't have known it from the scene inside the back room of Frida Bistro.
The gray day was totally forgotten by children staying at a Salt Lake homeless shelter amid the Halloween excitement generated by a bustle of colors and costumes and the warmth of those who diligently volunteer at the annual event.
Diane Morrell, President of the Utah chapter of Qwest's Hispanic employees association which has put the event on for 17 years, said the Halloween party was started in an effort to offer a fun, holiday event for the children staying at the Road Home.
"It's just a blast," she said. "What we really love about it is that the kids have a chance to just be kids. They can forget about their surroundings and they can just play."
As parents and children decorated cookies behind her, she detailed how everything comes together, from the collection of candy and costumes to the logistics of where to hold the event with a fairly tight budget. Things that run smoother the more years it's done.
"It's almost like clockwork now," she said. "We started very small. The first year we were at Our Lady of Guadalupe and transported just the kids."
Sunday, parents and children sat, ate and played together. For Nikie and Scott Lechtenberg, the party was almost a farewell of sorts as well. After six months at the Road Home with their two sons, they're in a position to move out.
"I'm glad they have this facility for families that are struggling to get back on their feet," Scott Lechtenberg said. "We couldn't have done it without them. I'll tell you that."
As their son, Scotland, pointed excitedly to the various decorations and spoke of wanting a spider and a ghost of his own, his father recounted the events that took the family from a Murray apartment to the shelter. A mason by trade, he struggled to find work and the family ended up without a home. So they came to this new, different home and found a staff that was "extremely helpful." Now, he and his wife both have steady employment.
Sunday was the family's last day, and as they had for the last six months, they took part in the family-focused events they've often frequented. As for leaving?
"It's a good feeling," he said.
Nine-year-old Bryan Maya, who sat decked out in a Star Wars costume, took advantage of "all the things" that he had been looking forward to. He wore a necklace he'd beaded himself and had a skeleton painted on his forearm. For him, the allure of the party was pretty simple. It was all about the decorations, but also one other thing.
"Playing," he said. "Having fun."
Among the families, a storyteller with a Mickey Mouse wizard hat, a man on stilts and a station dedicated to facepainting, numerous volunteers kept things rolling. Theresa Martinez, a sociology professor from the University of Utah, was there with a number of her students, who have helped with the event since it began.
"For me the vision of this event has always been significant and meaningful," she said. "It's important to help the children here have access to these kinds of events other children take for granted."
And Martinez said her students, who primarily come from privileged backgrounds, are always eager to help with candy and costume collection, as well as pitching in at the event.
"They come in droves," she said. "My students are wonderful. They don't get credit for it."
But, judging by the smiles on their faces and on those at the event, being there was reward enough.
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