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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Timothy Pruitt gets his face painted by Mavis Hales as the Salt Lake Board of Realtors held its annual Christmas in July event at The Road Home homeless shelter in Salt Lake City Friday, July 12, 2013.
What everybody’s done here is wonderful for these kids. They are having a hard enough time as it is having to be here. Something like this shows them that people care. —Brenda Byrd

SALT LAKE CITY — Mrs. Claus sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to smiling families as they rode in a horse-drawn carriage Friday in front of The Road Home.

The Salt Lake Board of Realtors held its 22nd annual Christmas in July celebration at The Road Home homeless shelter in hopes of lifting the spirits of families in need.

“The community is tremendously supportive of us, especially during the holidays,” said Celeste Eggert, The Road Home’s director of development and community relations. “But when it comes to this time of year, we see a decrease in the number of volunteers that we have, as well as the number of financial contributions we receive. So it’s a great time of year to do this because it’s reminding the community the need is still there, even when the weather is warm.”

Rain fell Friday morning, relieving The Road Home’s residents after a streak of hot weather. Eggert said sometimes people forget that summer heat can be just as trying for the homeless as the winter cold.

“When the weather’s cold, (their need) is in the forefront of our minds,” she said. “We’re thinking, 'Oh, my gosh. I’m so fortunate to have a home and my own place to stay.' But it’s just not as much in people’s minds in the summertime.”

Due to the rain, the event’s carnival activities took place within the halls of the homeless shelter, including face painting, games and crafts. Christmas trees decorated the shelter, families had their pictures taken on Santa’s lap, and Mrs. Claus hosted horse-drawn carriage rides down Rio Grande Street.

Brenda Byrd, a grandmother staying at The Road Home, said her 2-year-old granddaughter Brooklynn jumped up and down in glee as she boarded the horse-drawn carriage.

“What everybody’s done here is wonderful for these kids,” Byrd said. “They are having a hard enough time as it is having to be here. Something like this shows them that people care.”

“This was just a great event because there’s nothing normal about being a kid, being homeless and living in a shelter," Eggert said, "and this is one day they can forget about being homeless and they can just have fun.”

Kids also received a backpack filled with games, toys, books, back-to-school items, blankets, clothing and personal hygiene items, said Sue Hoggan of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors, Christmas in July chairwoman.

Hoggan said she experienced hard times and was close to homelessness years ago, so she had always wanted to be part of the event. This was her first year organizing the Christmas in July event, she said.

Driving here, I was just like, ‘I can’t believe I’m in charge of this thing,” she said. “It’s good to give back.”

According to the most recent Utah Comprehensive Report on Homelessness, about 16,500 Utahns experienced homelessness at one point last year. Of those, about 11,000 lived in Salt Lake County, the report stated.

The Salt Lake Board of Realtors also raised $27,000 at a recent charity dinner and auction that will be presented to The Road Home next week, said Dave Frederickson, board president.

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“This is one of our missions to provide service to the community,” Frederickson said. “And homelessness is the cause the Realtors chose because they’re in the industry. They’re selling people homes, and they get satisfaction out of that. So to help people who don’t have housing is a way for Realtors to give service.”

Frederickson said it’s a privilege for the board to partner with The Road Home during the season of donation decline, and he and other members “are committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability of Utah’s largest homeless shelter."

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com