SALT LAKE CITY — If the gloomy fog that darkened the chilled Wasatch Front air Sunday afternoon was frightful, then the holiday atmosphere inside of Fleming's Prime Steakhouse could aptly be described as delightful.
Making the most of a rare day off for the Utah Jazz, Deron Williams and his wife, Amy, hosted the annual charity Christmas Dinner sponsored by the star point guard's Point of Hope Foundation.
This year, Santa D-Will and his helpful elves provided 20 low-income single moms and their 40 children a combination of season's greetings and gifts, a jolly jolt of joy and a diversion from the inversion.
"I love Christmas time," Williams said. "(It's) a time of sharing and giving."
Sixty people Sunday were grateful the All-Star point guard is as good at sharing and giving off the court as he is on it.
Williams was equally excited to spread holiday cheer to the special guests at his party who were selected by Seven Still Waters, a Utah-based nonprofit group that helps single parents and children.
After all, their life situations are quite familiar to him.
Williams was raised in Dallas by his mother, Denise Smith. Without his father around, Williams' mom had to work extra hard to provide for the future NBA standout and his younger brother, Kendall Jones.
"It's a great cause, something that's close to me because my mom was a single mom," Williams said. "And I knew how difficult it was around Christmastime for her to provide for me and my little brother and still help us have a good Christmas. That's what this is about."
Williams raises money for this event — and an annual Thanksgiving dinner — through his foundation's golf and dodgeball tournaments. Since 2007, the Christmas party has benefited 220 people, including single-parent families and wounded U.S. military veterans.
Amy enjoys how her husband's NBA career has allowed them to reach out and help others.
"This is far more rewarding than just playing basketball," she said. "The best part of being who he is, is the impact and difference he can make."
Mindee Elmore's family will happily tell you how much getting a spirit-of-the-season assist from Williams benefited them.
Elmore has raised her 12-year-old son, C.J., and 9-year-old daughter, Jaylene, for most of their lives on her own. The last year has been particularly rough on the North Ogden single parent. Both her mom and her ex-husband's mother passed away, leaving her children without that additional love and support from their grandmas and making her feel like the weight of the world was pressing down harder on her shoulders.
Elmore is grateful for emotional, financial and Christmas goodwill she's received in recent months from Seven Still Waters and the Williams family.
"It's definitely tough. It's a hard job being a single mother, but for somebody to come along and help at Christmastime, it's beyond words of expression," Elmore said. "It's really touching, and we really needed help this year. It's a wonderful, wonderful feeling, and that's what the season of Christmas is all about — (being) Christ-like and to be giving and caring, and he's definitely followed through on that."
And what does it mean to her children?
"Toys," Elmore said, laughing.
It's not in his job description, nor a requirement of being an NBA player or star. But, like his wife, Williams gets great personal satisfaction in helping people with various disabilities, diseases or special needs.
"It's something I love to do. I love to give back to the community," Williams said. "These fans are always so supportive. Half of these kids are big fans of mine and fans of the Jazz, so it was good to give them a good Christmas and see the smile on their faces."
Soft-spoken Jaylene had a message for Williams that was as sincere as it was short: "Thank you."
C.J. was a big fan before and an even bigger fan after meeting D-Will. The youngster's envious friends told him he was "lucky," and he thought the once-in-a-lifetime experience was "cool."
The 20 families each had their chance to personally chat with Williams, who also posed for photos with them.
"It's awesome," Nicole Terrazas of Ogden said, "because I've been a Utah Jazz fan for a really long time."
Her son, 7-year-old Mikey, watches Utah Jazz games but was shyly left speechless.
"We're out of words for it," his mom said. "He's a good person for helping people like this."
This Santa had plenty of helpers in organizing the event as well as shopping and wrapping gifts.
"You don't want me to wrap presents," Williams joked. "It's not a pretty thing."
Williams gave some input — he checked the list twice and all of that Kris Kringle stuff — but his elves took care of most of the work as he led the Jazz to a 15-6 record. That group included Amy and friends Matt Mitnick, Ashley Kelson, Jeff Smith, Judy Ward, and Ryan and Jill Coil. They've been working on the project for a month, and literally wrapped things up — everything from clothes to an electric guitar — for five hours Saturday in a warehouse owned by Kyle Korver's foundation.
Amy said she gets a bigger kick out of doing this every year than being Mrs. Santa for the Williams' three children.
"For my kids, you're doing something really sweet and they're kids and they have this great feeling about Christmas," she explained. "But when it's other people's children, I think you feel a lot more fulfilled from doing this kind of stuff. It doesn't seem like a hassle to wrap gifts like it is if you're doing it for your own family. I love it. I think this is one of the best things that we can do."
If Williams could wrap up one piece of advice as a present to children with single moms, it'd simply be this: "I just tell them to hang in there."
Added the Jazz captain: "Their moms are doing the best they can. As a kid, you don't really understand what they're sacrificing and how hard they work."
Now that he's an adult and a father of three, Williams recognizes and appreciates more than ever what his own mother went through for their family.
"My mom had two jobs and would work hard, and I'd have to take care of my little brother a lot of the time because she was always gone," Williams said. "But she wasn't gone because she didn't love us. She was gone because she wanted to provide for us the best she possibly could, and she did a great job of that."
His childhood experience — knowing how demanding it was on his mom and how difficult it was on the family not to have a dad around — makes Williams want to be there even more for his children.11 comments on this story
"That's the biggest reason I always want to be a big part of my kids' lives is because I didn't have that father figure growing up," said Williams, who recently reconnected with his dad. "I can relate to these kids and understand what they're going through. It's tough to grow up without a dad to kick you in the butt and correct you.
"It's hard on a mom to be both parents," he added. "But (my mom) did the best job possible."
It was obvious to 60 grateful people on a dreary-turned-cheery Sunday that she taught Williams something right.