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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Event organizer Tracy Barnes helps paint faces as hundreds of homeless are served a barbecue that included kid activities, as well as flip flops, hygiene kits, and donated clothes for the children, Thursday, July 24, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Six-year-old Sadie Gray screamed with excitement Thursday as she held up a pink shirt she'd chosen from among other items in a donation pile. Close behind was her mother, Robbin, who also eagerly searched for clothes that would fit her daughter.

For many Salt Lake residents, Thursday was a day of plenty. And such days don't come often for Robbin and Sadie Gray, who live at The Road Home homeless shelter.

Robbin Gray's gratitude, however, remains undiminished.

"The community truly does care about people," she said.

About 50 volunteers spent the afternoon giving out free meals, flip-flops, hygiene kits and children's clothing to a line of people outside the shelter. A booth was also set up for children to paint toys.

The event has taken place every Pioneer Day for the past five years.

Tracy Barnes, of Bountiful, who started the event, said she hopes it will give people a way to express care and concern for others.

"My main goal is awareness — to let them know that there are people out in the community that care about them and think about them and want what's best for them," she said.

Barnes has volunteered at homeless shelters for many years. The idea for the event came when she learned that many shelters weren't serving meals on Pioneer Day. She and other volunteers teamed up to provide a meal that day. Every year since, participation in the event has grown.

This year, Barnes wanted to provide more than a meal for those in need, especially for the children.

"The kids really don't get an opportunity to escape from the environment and their situation," Barnes said. "That's why I wanted to make sure we had clothes and little activities for them to do aside from weekly activities" at the shelter.

Businesses, including Control4, Brighton Bank and Wadsworth Construction, donated resources toward the event.

Michelle Takemori, who works for Brighton Bank, said providing service to community members is a rewarding and educational experience.

"It's an amazing satisfaction. It's incredible," Takemori said. "It really opens my eyes to how great a need there is. It's just really hard to believe."

JD Ellis, Barnes' husband, said he's moved by the gratitude the volunteers get from patrons.

"The people are just so appreciative and thankful, and you feel like you have one day that you can actually give back something meaningful," Ellis said. "We had a couple people coming through before it even started, saying, 'Thank you' in advance and giving us hugs."

Gray, who has recently completed an addiction recovery program, says being homeless and taking care of a child is "very challenging." But the kindness of others makes the task seem less daunting, at least for one day.

"You mention the word recovery and people kind of look down on you," Gray said. "And it's nice to know that people actually do care."