United Way's Sub for Santa program has only been open two weeks, and already more families have applied for help than have ever applied before this early in the holiday season.

"Usually we don't get a lot of calls until at least after Thanksgiving," said director Lori Hirst. "But for some reason, more families are feeling the financial pressures of the holidays a little sooner."We are not sure whether this same steady stream of applicants will continue throughout the holiday season, or whether it will peak off. But one thing is for sure - we need sponsors for these needy families," Hirst said.

A Sub for Santa sponsor is matched up with a needy family and is asked to provide a least one toy and one clothing item for each child in the family. Providing gifts for the parents is strictly optional. The program is specifically designed to help the children enjoy the holidays.

Sponsors are given the necessary information on the needy family, and are then responsible for contacting them and delivering their gifts. Sponsors may be anonymous if they wish.

Families who apply are screened by a volunteer committee. It checks their sources of income, their references, and any other additional background.

The program is not intended to become a "welfare" program; only in extreme cases will families be helped who have received help for two years in the past.

Families who apply who have been helped before are required to work with a counselor on setting self-sufficiency goals to plan for the future.

The United Way Sub for Santa program coordinates with other programs, such as the Elks, Brigham Young University, and local businesses who help out needy families to ensure that there is not duplication of services.

Families, businesses, clubs, and other groups who would like to sponsor a needy family should call Sub for Santa at 375-2999 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays. Families who need Christmas help should also call the Sub for Santa number for more information on applying.