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Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Elida Stults prepares Christmas gift bags for needy Utah children at Eagle Ranch Ministries.

Leonard Burningham was at loose ends one Thanksgiving 17 years ago when most of his family was out of town. The Salt Lake securities lawyer had been reading about a charitable group that provided Thanksgiving meals to needy people, and Burningham decided he would help out.

"That just got me interested in the plight of the homeless," Burningham said. "I spent the morning cooking dressing for turkeys. I made up my mind to start a food and clothing drive with the Utah State Bar."

Since then, Burningham has been conducting an annual drive within the legal community to get food, clothes, money and other donated goods for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

All the funds and donated items go to a variety of community groups that help people in need — the homeless, the unemployed, battered women, low-income families, disabled individuals and others who might otherwise be facing a bleak Noel.

The donation drive this year netted about $7,500 and nearly a semitrailer truck filled with clothing, toys, toiletries and other goods.

A number of donations went to Eagle Ranch Ministries, an organization run by Jennie Dudley, who ministers to needy people.

"I think the checks this year were equally divided between Jennie's (group), the food bank, the rescue mission and the women's shelter at the YWCA," Burningham said.

Donations in the past have gone to different agencies after they have been contacted to see what their needs are.

Burningham is quick to note that he is not alone in making this happen. Among others, he credits two friends, Karl Smith and Jim Savas, for helping to get turkeys, hams and produce for food boxes.

Formerly, Toby Brown at the Utah State Bar helped with the drive; his efforts now have been taken over by Lincoln Mead.

Burningham also praises the hard work done by his secretary, Sheryl Ross, who handles massive e-mailing and contact duties. Burningham's wife, Stacy, also taps her mother and friends for a variety of donations. "She goes out and gathers up a couple of truckloads of things," he said.

He was happy to donate to Eagle Ranch Ministries this year and said Jennie Dudley was, and still is, an inspiration to him.

"Jennie just felt it was her calling to serve," he said. "She serves hundreds of people."

The donations from the legal community, as well as from other sources, offer those who need help over the holidays the chance to "shop" for clothes for children and adults, as well as get toys and other things at the Eagle Ranch Ministries' distribution center at 1899 S. Redwood Road.

In addition, recipients also can get Christmas boxes filled with such things as oranges, potatoes, celery, cookies and more, as well as a turkey or ham, so they have the fixings for an entire meal.

For her part, Dudley is impressed with the generosity of the lawyers in this area.

"I think they're loaded with the giving spirit — they do their job," Dudley said.

Burningham, too, said he is always heartened by the level of giving that his fellow attorneys, paralegals and legal secretaries display on the day scheduled for collecting the holiday goods.

"Lots of people this year brought brand-new socks, shirts, packages, there were a lot of new children's things, coats ... there was a lot of food, a lot of toys, movies for kids," Burningham said.

Many arrive simply with checks in hand — and they're eager for an opportunity to say hello.

Just knowing that someone's holiday is better is a great reward, Burningham said. "The person making the gift always feels better than the person who gets it," he said. "The people who get it need it and they appreciate it."

A Taylorsville woman named Jan certainly appreciated what she was getting when she was looking this week for clothes for her disabled husband and two children, ages 8 and 9, at the Eagle Ranch Ministries' distribution center.

"Without this, my children wouldn't be getting any warm clothes for winter," she said. "Due to a fall on the ice last year, I became disabled, and it's been a difficult year for my family."

Her husband has been disabled for 15 years, and while her children believe in Santa Claus, money is scarce.

"This is awesome," she said, reaching for various children's clothes held in a large bin. "This is for Christmas day. We'll be wrapping them up, and they'll be from Santa. They'll be well-used."

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