Locals With Giving Hearts Share Their Gifts of Service Throughout the Year

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Left: Brent Crane, executive director of the Food & Care Coalition in Provo. Right: Michaelann Gardner, EveryDay Strong director at United Way of Utah County, with presents in her car.

By Jayna Smith

During the months of November and December, serving our fellowmen comes to the forefront of headlines, angel trees, and to-do lists. But the needs in Utah County also persist from January to October. Meet two people who are Santa’s helpers all year long. 

Brent Crane, Executive Director of the Food & Care Coalition in Provo

Utah Valley Magazine: What do you love about your role?

Brent: I love taking on big issues and making it a desirable experience for people to get involved. Working at the Coalition, we have people of all faiths, all socioeconomic status, liberal, conservative and everything in between. In the early days, we had to beg for volunteers. Now we have more than 50,000 people volunteering.

UV: Can you share a memory that sticks out about your time at Food and Care?

Brent: There was an 8-year-old boy who saw a news story about panhandlers. He went to his mother and said he wanted to help. His mother discouraged this little boy from doing that. Later she showed up at our delivery entrance with a little red wagon and tears in her eyes. Without her knowing, the boy had gone around the neighborhood asking for donations and had collected like $8 or $9, loose change, a small bag of clothes, and a couple plastic bags full of groceries. She said her son had taught her a valuable lesson. When we see things through the eyes of a child, we don’t have biases. The boy saw a need and wanted to love others.

UV: What is the greatest need in Utah Valley?

Brent: Affordable housing is at a critical juncture in the history of our valley. The market caters to either large families or student housing. A lot of our clients are singles or couples, and it’s really difficult for them to compete. There’s a lack of one-bedroom apartments in our community that cater to this population. We’re raising funds to build 72 new one-bedroom permanent supportive housing units.

UV: How does Christmas affect the Food & Care Coalition?

Brent: The spirit of Christmas is here year-round. I teach my staff that we need to not let it become routine. We see the public donating daily, but sometimes our staff members don’t understand that we don’t know what sacrifices they made to bring that donation in.

UV: How can the people of Utah Valley best serve?

Brent: Search out the charities of your choice and find out what they need. Find if they’re trying to tackle a new issue or already have a program that works. Do your research to see what their greatest need is.

How to Get Involved

There are dozens of ways to help the Food & Care Coalition. Check out the website for ideas from serving hot meals to sponsoring fundraisers. Go to foodandcare.org/volunteer-oportunities.

Contact Food and Care’s volunteer coordinator for more information at volunteer@foodandcare.org and (801) 373-1825 ext. 408.

Michaelann Gardner, EveryDay Strong Director at United Way of Utah County

Utah Valley Magazine: What do you love about your role?

Michaelann: I’ve been involved with United Way and the Sub for Santa program for over seven years. The most important thing we can do is care for each other. I love how United Way is all about the circular effect of giving — so many Sub for Santa recipient families come back in future years when they are more stable and become sponsors for other families.

UV: What’s the best part of Christmas at United Way?

Michaelann: My favorite part of Sub for Santa is helping families apply at our open houses. To help us understand their needs, we ask them to bring photo ID, proof of income and a list of needs and wants from their kids — like coats, books and a toy or two. It’s a unique opportunity to hear people’s stories and connect with them. You can’t do that when shopping or dropping off presents. Cancer, job loss, a child’s chronic illness or any crisis can bring people to apply. I have cried more than once hearing their stories. Each of our families has so much dignity and desire to just have a normal year for their children despite whatever trials have temporarily happened to them.

UV: How can the people of Utah Valley best serve?

Michaelann: However you serve, keep the spirit of giving year round. The families who receive help often still need support with medical care, housing, job training or food. Steady service 11 months of the year has a longer impact on both you and those you serve than a one-time project one day of the year.

UV: What are misconceptions about needs in Utah Valley?

Michaelann: Some think nonprofits during the holidays need donations of winter clothing or food. We love donations! Unfortunately, sometimes we get more than we can store. The nonprofits in Utah County have an amazing network and partnership with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that allows us to give Deseret Industries vouchers to those most in need. We love receiving food — especially if it’s fresh. People also think that giving your time or in-kind donations is better than money. There are a lot of things that the nonprofit community can’t cover with donated items or volunteer time, like security deposits to move homeless families off the street, therapists to provide mental health services to those who can’t afford it, or early-childhood screenings for developmental delays.

How to Get Involved

United Way of Utah County can help generous residents find ways to give time and money in all areas through its programs, including EveryDay Strong (mental health), EveryDay Learners (literacy) or EveryDay Support (housing, food and financial stability measures). Visit the volunteer website at volunteer.unitedwayuc.org for a list of places to start or call the United Way office directly by dialing 2-1-1.

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