Christmas for refugee children made possible through donations, volunteers

Published: Saturday, Dec. 8 2012 1:43 a.m. MST

Tina Xu, front, along with other volunteers from the University of Utah Bennion Center, wraps gifts for refugees at Catholic Community Services in Salt Lake City, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Presents, wrapping paper and dozens of volunteers were all spread out Friday along the floors and hallways of the Catholic Community Services of Utah, 450 S. 900 East, as hundreds of Christmas presents were packaged to send off to local refugee children.

"The Gift of the Drummer" is an annual project that provides presents to more than 200 refugee children here in the Salt Lake City area. Presents collected by donation are all new and unwrapped and range from clothing to toys to educational items. Each child will receive five to eight presents. Most of the refugees come from Somalia and Burma and have no idea what Christmas is, said Danielle Stamos, marketing coordinator for CCS.

"Most of the refugee children came here with nothing," Stamos said. "When we picked them up at the airport they only had one carry-on bag. To see their faces when they receive their presents is really special."

Many of the refugees have lost all their family and have come from countries in the midst of civil war or social unrest, she said.

"They come from almost any situation you can think of," Stamos said. "CCS really becomes their guardian."

Volunteers, including many students from the University of Utah's Lowell Bennion Center, came out to wrap donated presents that would then be delivered to the refugees.

The project provided a flexible opportunity for student volunteers to come out and get involved, said Lacey Holmes, Bennion Center public relations coordinator. Normally Bennion Center service projects are held on Saturdays, but due to local schools having finals next week, a change was made, Holmes said.

"We wanted a way for students to participate in service despite the craziness of the month," she said. "We actually had more students than expected and that is great because volunteering is an important part of the college experience."

Each year the project produces positive results, but this year was perhaps the strongest showing of support for the refugee children.

"It is a great success," CCS volunteer director Janet Healy said. "This is the first time we have more donors than children."

The help that CCS received from the Bennion Center volunteers was invaluable, Stamos said.

"We really couldn't have done it without them," she said. "Without them it would have taken a whole month to wrap all the presents."

The collaborative effort of volunteers, staff members and donators has made it possible for these children to experience something that would otherwise be impossible, Stamos said.

"It's amazing how the community comes together," she said. "Every one of our refugee foster-care children will now receive Christmas through this program."

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