Christmas Eve dinner at grandma’s. Opening presents in the living room clad in pajamas. Shopping at the University Mall in Orem.
Families in Utah Valley have long-standing Christmas traditions, and shopping at the University Mall has been a major part of the area’s holidays for more than 30 years.
Starting with the anticipated post-Thanksgiving sales, the University Mall has always hosted tremendous events that make the holidays bright for families from Lehi to Santaquin and beyond. High school choirs entertain visitors as children sit with Santa Claus and look to see if their name appears on the “Good” list that the animated elves are making.
Innumerable presents have been purchased in the days leading up to the holidays. Sweaters and books and video games have all been toted out to the chilly air waiting in the parking lot.
Those who were children when the University Mall opened are now taking a second generation of young people to see the Christmas spectacle at University Mall. Families are creating new memories that will ensure the University Mall will be part of Utah Valley Christmases for years to come.
The University Mall is hosting new events this year to combine with their long-standing traditions. Even Santa will be more up to date than in previous years. Gadgix, an electronic accessories store in the University Mall, will be supplying Santa with a speaker earpiece. When an elf greets a child and asks for his or her name, Santa will listen and be able to call the children by name as he lifts them on his knee. New surprises will accompany Santa’s Arrival on Nov. 28 and also the subsequent Photos with Santa that the University Mall sponsors, which will give a fresh approach to an old tradition. There are also opportunities to give to others and help area organizations through the Giving Tree and the new Gingerbread Dream Houses fundraiser.
Gingerbread Dream Houses
Every year hundreds of children from Utah County and the surrounding counties come to the Children’s Justice Center in Provo for help. The center is designed to help children feel safe and comfortable so they can begin to deal with the issues surrounding abuse.
To assist in this mission, the University Mall is sponsoring – in cooperation with a number of local businesses – a Gingerbread Dream Houses fundraiser.
“We’re extremely grateful to have the support of the University Mall,” says Laura Blanchard, director of the Children’s Justice Center. “We have a huge need for funding right now. We always have a need, but now we are especially in need of funds because we are trying to expand our child-support facilities.”
The fundraiser is broken into three parts. First, children from the area will illustrate what their “dream gingerbread house” would look like and submit the illustrations for judging.
In the second phase, 10 children will be selected to build their gingerbread house in a designated “construction zone” at the mall on Nov. 29. At the same time, 10 businesses from the community will bring in gingerbread houses they have built, which means 20 houses will be on display.
The University Mall and its partners will supply all the materials needed to complete the houses. For example, Kara’s Chocolates in the mall is supplying 100 pounds of candy, ranging from gumdrops to licorice. Ben’s Cookies is supplying sheets of gingerbread to use as the foundation for the children’s houses.
“We wanted to be involved because it’s obviously a good cause and it’s a great fit for our business,” says Nicky Bleggi of Kara’s Chocolates. “We hope that participating in this event will help more people become aware of our store, but we’re also excited to see how the kids will use our candy to build their dream homes.”
The 20 houses will be displayed in a village style by Meier and Frank from Dec. 1 through Dec. 20.
The third phase and final phase will be a silent auction, where the houses will be auctioned and the money raised will be donated to the Children’s Justice Center.
“The University Mall’s support of our work will help us so much and will enable us to help more children in our area,” Blanchard says.
More information on the Gingerbread Dream Houses is available by calling (801) 224-0810.
The Giving Tree
Diane Lawson and the other people at Kids on the Move in Orem are able to help between 40 and 50 families a year through the University Mall sponsored Giving Tree.
“Each family might have between two and five people and we get presents for all of them,” Lawson says. “It’s a tremendous program.”
Lawson and representatives from other local organizations have been blessed through the Giving Tree for years.
“We’ve been working with the University Mall’s Giving Tree for three years,” Lawson says. “We used to have our own tree, but they are so organized and make it work so well, we stopped having our own and put our effort into the University Mall’s program.”
Kids on the Move is a preschool for low-income families and children with disabilities. Each year many of the families they work with don’t have the money to get the presents their children want.
The Giving Tree is decorated with paper ornaments that have descriptions of a needy person. The University Mall isn’t given any specific information concerning those it is helping, so descriptions on the ornaments are general and include only the person’s age, clothing size and a list of desired items. The University Mall receives names from numerous sponsoring organizations, including Kids on the Move, the United Way of Utah County, and the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Utah County, and has a system to ensure that the presents bought for a specific person are received by that person.
Beginning on Nov. 28, patrons of the University Mall take ornaments off the tree – which include the person’s “wish list” of presents – and bring the unwrapped gifts back to the customer service desk after they have been purchased. Participants aren’t required to purchase the presents at the mall, but simply need to return the gifts to the customer service desk, which then makes sure the proper organization gets and distributes the gifts.
This year there is an addition to this 12-year-old tradition. The tree will also include the names of elderly people in the community who lack the funds or family to have a Christmas. Assisted-living facilities and other related organizations supply the needs of specific elderly people and patrons can sponsor them.
Cynthia Gamble, owner of Remedez salon in the University Mall, is so excited about the idea, she is going to send staff members to various retirement centers to pamper those who might not be pampered otherwise.
“We want to be able to get out in the community and help in ways that are consistent with the Christmas season,” she says.
Also new this year, starting Dec. 15, the Giving Tree will be decorated with additional ornaments representing children that will be in the hospital for Christmas. The University Mall will only be given the general information for the children and presents will be hand delivered to the children in the hospital by Santa himself.
“Unfortunately, some children will spend Christmas this year in a hospital bed instead of their own homes,” says Mike Babcock, director of public relations for Shriner’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. “The generous donations from University Mall patrons will ensure that these children receive their Christmas wishes in addition to improved health and better lives.”
On Nov. 28, children who visit the mall will be able to hand-make Christmas cards that will be delivered with the Giving Tree presents to the recipients of the presents.
The Giving Tree has become a selfless tradition for many Utah Valley families and continues to bring the community closer together. For more information,
call (801) 224-0810.