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More families find alternative ways of giving

People want to serve in ways that last beyond Christmas

By Whitney Evans

Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Dec. 25 2011 8:45 p.m. MST

One year Teri Bunker was looking for a way to add meaning to her family's Christmas. Her solution came in the form of an email.

Her voice filled with emotion as she recounted the story that inspired their family tradition: every year for Christmas a woman would perform an act of service on behalf of her husband and then place an envelope containing the details of her service in their tree as a gift to him. The husband eventually died of cancer and the Christmas following his death she found four envelopes in the tree, one from each of their kids, for their father.

Bunker related this story to her children and gave them the charge to perform an act of service that year. When Christmas rolled around, they would share what they had done. Over the years this tradition has become a highlight of the Bunker family's Christmas celebration.

"One of the important aspects of this is we never did a family project because I really wanted the children to look outside themselves and be aware of needs," Bunker said.

Services rendered ranged from befriending a foreign exchange student to leaving someone secret notes. One son's family bought lunch bags and filled them with water bottles, granola bars and other snacks and kept them in their car. When they would drive past a homeless person they would have their children run out to give them a bag. These acts of service were in line with Bunker's goal to help her children see the little ways in which they could serve.

"I have pretty amazing children and it's just made them more service oriented and more aware of those around them," Bunker said.

The Bunkers are part of the growing trend of Americans who choose to give back in small but meaningful ways over the Christmas holiday. While a recent survey done by American Research Group, Inc., showed spending plans for Americans are down 2 percent from last year, service-based organizations have reported seeing more people interested in using some of their Christmas budget or time off to give. One possible reason for this shift in giving may be the recent recession,

"I think that the tough economy has reminded many of us that life can be tough and that people know people -- who are good people -- who struggle," said

Bill Hulterstrom, CEO and President of United Way of Utah County.

Hulterstrom said he has seen an increase in the number of people who not only want to serve, but serve in ways that last beyond Christmas morning.

United Way of Utah County has been coordinating sub for santa for 29 years. One of their goals has been to help donors focus on helping individuals and families in substantial ways. For instance, giving school clothes or toys with an educational slant or helping provide the necessities of life for a family, rather than just dropping gifts on a doorstep on Christmas Eve.

"We fine-tune their passion ever so slightly and make it better for the family they're helping," Hulterstrom said. "I think that's a maturing of giving."

According to Hulterstrom, this past year United Way of Utah County has helped 5077 children, in addition to providing Christmas to 150 children in the juvenile detention center and helping people in the state hospital. Six hundred and seventy groups and individuals have signed up to help, and scores of volunteers have come to deliver and organize.

"This is no small effort," Hulterstrom said.

United Way of Utah County's focus on sustainable giving is an idea that is catching on in other organizations as well. Companies like Hiefer International, where gifted livestock will help support a family, or Kiva, where a 25 dollar interest-free loan can go a long way toward helping those with big ideas and little opportunity to accomplish their goals.

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