SALT LAKE CITY — As a child, Stephanie Schuring spent each Thanksgiving at a local homeless shelter providing service to those in need.
Since then, not much has changed.
Schuring and her two daughters bought shampoo, toothpaste, soap and other toiletries to donate to the Utah Free Market, a 30-day philanthropy challenge designed to provide people in need with basic necessities.
"I think it's good for the girls to kind of give back to the community," she said. "They’re able to have a lot in life, and I think it’s important to see those that are in need and be able to help and give to people."
The idea of the Utah Free Market began in July when a group of 10 came together to discuss how to give back to the community. Under the direction of Drive the Thrive, a company that has been serving Utah for the past three years, Utah Free Market used social media to collect more than 3,000 donations in just one week.
Donations did not stop there. On Friday, people gathered at The Gateway with clothes, backpacks, books and even light fixtures. The final day to donate will be Wednesday, in preparation for "The Big Give" — a two-day event next Friday and Saturday set aside for people to come and take what they need for free.
"We want this to be an environment that’s nonthreatening. We want people to feel comfortable and very dignified by being here, and that’s part of reason that we love having it at The Gateway because people feel like they are just coming to shop at a retail store," said Christion Sadler, Utah Free Market team captain.
Sadler said he had a goal of collecting 200 items, but after all the support he received from the Salt Lake community, that goal quickly changed to 2,000 — a number he has already surpassed.
"It shows a lot. I know that Utah is a very giving place, and I’m blessed to live here," he said. "We have a very giving community here in Utah, a lot of people who want to make a difference but maybe just don’t know how."
Drive the Thrive reached out to 30 other teams that have organized philanthropic projects similar to the Utah Free Market, to corral that strong spirit of service found in Utah.
"Ultimately those 30 teams decide whatever their initiative is, and then for 30 days those teams will provide whatever support or whatever service (is needed)," said James Hadlock, co-founder of Drive the Thrive. "The idea was over the next 30 days they would work as a team to fulfill whatever the need was for their cause or nonprofit."
According to Hadlock, people are looking for ways to connect, and the best way to do that, he says, is through service.
"Today most people don’t even know who our neighbors are. We are starving for connection, and frankly I think we just need to give people a reason and lay out some type of system or platform that allows for them to connect," he said.
Rose Park resident Christina Pena is just one of many who plans to attend "The Big Give" next weekend.
"I just got custody of two of my granddaughters, and they’re starting school, and I read that there were going to be backpacks here, and I thought, 'Aw, good,'" Pena said. "The community does a lot for each other if you really make an effort."
The idea of a free market, she said, is a wonderful gesture that shows how much the community cares about one another.
Schuring echoed Pena's feelings when she got emotional explaining how the opportunity to donate and teach her kids about service has made her feel.
“It makes me feel good," Schuring said. "Sometimes even good people get down on their luck, and so sometimes they just need someone to pick them up and help out."
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