Interfaith effort delivers Christmas packages to refugees, senior citizens in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY – Despite school not being in session because of the Christmas holiday, things were busy at West High School.

Hundreds of volunteers gathered early on Christmas morning to put together packages of food, supplies and clothing for senior citizens and refugee families who are new to Utah.

“It’s something to give back to the community,” said Vladimir Shnayderman, who has volunteered with the organization for 10 years.

The huge event is organized by the Salt Lake chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women. They call it “Shalom/Salaam Tikkun-Olam.” That is a Hebrew term that means “repair the world.”

Their goal is to prevent anyone from being left behind during the holidays.

“Our kids are old enough now that Christmas morning doesn’t have to happen in the morning,” David Baugh said. He’s volunteered for four years. “What better way to celebrate Christmas than to come out here and share the Christmas spirit with our neighbors and friends in the community?"

Members of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths—as well as people without a religious affiliation—all joined together to make the deliveries happen.

“It doesn’t matter what religion you are: We are celebrating the Christmas spirit and giving back to the community,” Baugh said.

Organizers say they served more than 1,400 people on Christmas day, including one refugee family who came to Utah from Malaysia.

Shnayderman, who came to the United States as a refugee from Moldova in 1996, volunteers to pay it forward for the support he received two decades ago.

“I think that’s one of the biggest reasons,” Shnayderman said when asked why he volunteers. “To help out the other people who were in similar boats to what I was—probably worse than I am."

Organizers say Monday's event isn’t about charity. Their message they want to convey is “thank you” to senior citizens and “welcome” to refugees.