The impact of recent economic challenges on local families is undeniable. Nearly 600 Washington County students are currently experiencing homelessness, and thousands more are living at or below the poverty line.
With the holidays just around the corner, Stephen Wade Auto Center has partnered with Switchpoint, Youth Futures, the Washington County School District and the Washington County Children’s Justice Center to collect essential items for at-risk kids. This marks the fifth year of their Wish Trees fundraising drive.
“Children and families in Southern Utah need our help,” said Jamie Bahlmann, public relations director for Stephen Wade Auto Center. “We want to ensure members of our community have the supplies they need.”
Located inside all of the Stephen Wade dealerships on Auto Mall Drive are Wish Trees with tags that include specific items needed by each organization. Choose a tag from the tree, purchase the item and drop it off at any dealership. Donations will be accepted starting Black Friday, Nov. 25, through Dec. 20.
Switchpoint’s mission is to address poverty and homelessness by providing a comprehensive plan to support individuals and families on their journey to self-sufficiency. The organization offers emergency shelter, food, housing, employment and services such as 24/7 child care at the new Stepping Stones early childhood education center.
“We are in need now more than ever as our community struggles with inflation, homelessness and providing for daily needs,” chief strategic officer Spencer Holmes said. “We are grateful for any help we receive through this campaign.”
Switchpoint has an urgent need for baby wipes, trash bags, cleaning supplies, gas cards and bus vouchers. Other items include sleeping bags, winter coats for adults and children, Amazon gift cards, toilet paper, paper towels and gift cards to grocery stores, drug stores and home improvement stores.
Youth Futures provides safe shelter, collaborative resources, respectful guidance and diverse support to homeless, unaccompanied, runaway and at-risk youth ages 12-18. Along with case management, they offer overnight shelter and drop-in services allowing access to food, clothing, hygiene items, laundry facilities and computer stations. Stephen Wade Auto Center has been involved with Youth Futures since their St. George shelter opened in 2018.
“We can always depend on their generosity for warm clothes, coats, hats, gloves and other holiday gifts,” executive director Kristen Mitchell said. “They bring the business and nonprofit sectors together to meet the needs of those who have less. I don’t know what we would do without them!”
Youth Futures is asking for donations to enhance the teen-oriented, home-like setting of the shelter. Items include earbuds, iPhone and Android chargers, fast food gift cards, Walmart gift cards, adult-size winter coats, fuzzy socks, cologne, body spray, art supplies, makeup, fuzzy blankets and journals.
The purpose of the Washington County School District Foundation is to enhance the quality of education for all students, including those experiencing housing insecurity. The foundation helps at-risk students through the Counselor’s Closet program by stocking a closet with snacks, clothes, hygiene items and more for every school counselor to distribute as needed.
“A student living in homelessness has the same basic needs as any other student,” said Mike Carr, homeless liaison and support services coordinator for the district. “If these basic needs are met, the student can focus on learning at school and not whether they will have food to eat or a place to stay for the night.”
Items on the foundation’s wish list this year include toothpaste, deodorant and laundry soap as well as socks, underwear, shoes, coats and gloves, particularly for elementary students. They’re also accepting gift cards to local grocery stores, casual dining restaurants, fast food establishments and family entertainment centers.
The Washington County Children’s Justice Center is a safe, welcoming place where children who have been victims of abuse and other crimes can come to begin their path to healing. A multidisciplinary team provides interviews, victim advocacy, medical care and trauma-focused mental health care for kids and supportive family members. Although the center receives some funding from the county and state, the vast majority of its operational budget is supported by grants and donations from community partners.
“While our work can be heavy, it is also hopeful,” director Kristy Pike said. “Much of the optimism we feel comes as we see the support of our community. We could not do what we do without the good people of Washington County.”
The center is seeking gift cards to Walmart, Target, Staples, Amazon and Costco. Additional needs include office supplies (white copy paper, legal pads and postage stamps), household supplies (disinfectant wipes, toilet paper, paper towels, plastic utensils, paper cups, paper plates and trash bags) and snacks (granola bars, chips, nuts, fruit snacks, beef jerky, string cheese, yogurt, crackers, juice boxes and bottled water).
Click here to view a complete list of items needed by all four organizations. Donations will be distributed before Christmas.
“Last year, because of our amazing residents, we delivered 4 1/2 trucks full of items to our nonprofit partners with over $1,500 in gift cards to be given to families,” Bahlmann said. “Stephen Wade Auto Center employees are also encouraged to donate items rather than exchange gifts.”