SALT LAKE CITY –Emergency shelters that help abused and neglected children hosted open houses this week, and the facilities are part of a project that began with a story called “The Christmas Box.”
The book was written by Richard Paul Evans, and in 1997 he founded The Christmas Box House International, which is a charitable organization that works on behalf of children.
"My wife and I decided we wanted to give back to the community, so we started asking child care professionals what we could do to help children, and everyone was in agreement that we needed a place to take the kids,” Evans said.
There are now three Christmas Box Houses in Utah, with locations in Moab, Salt Lake City and Ogden. The Ogden shelter is celebrating 10 years, and some of the children who stayed there, like Katrina, came back for an open house.
"If it wasn't for the Christmas Box House, I don't know where I would be,” Katrina said.
Development Coordinator Gina Barker said the Christmas Box Houses helped more than 1,000 children in 2012.
"Every single child that walks through our doors is going to be unique, which means we've seen children have tremendous growth, and we've also seen kids that have had a really difficult experience,” she said.
Lisa McDonald is the executive director of Christmas Box International, and she said they rely on the kindness of others to help children.
"All of our clothing items, backpacks, school items, toys— all come from the community,” she said. “They're all donated by individuals, service groups, businesses, who really want to reach out and support these kids."
Evans said he got the chance to meet some of the children at the open house.
"Tonight when I got here I met this young man,” Evans said. “He's wearing his student body officer jacket, and we started talking, and he plays 17 instruments. He's only 15 years old, but his goal is to go to Julliard. Straight-A student. We were talking, he said, ‘You know I lived here?’ I said, ‘You lived here?’ he goes, ‘Yeah, this place means a lot to me.’"
Jesus Johnson lived at the Christmas Box House for several years after his parents were caught selling drugs.
"I felt that I didn't deserve it,” he said. “I really didn't feel that I deserved it at all. I didn't feel that any kid deserves it, but of course I was only eight years old when I came in."
Now Johnson has a place to call home and a passion for music.
“I love music more than anything else, and I also love to dance, sing and just play music along with acting,” he said.
Thousands of children have been helped by the organization since it was founded.
"Since we've opened the doors years ago, we've housed and helped more than 50,000 abused children,” Evans said. “So you think of the University of Utah stadium, that'll give you an idea of how many kids have been here, lived in here."
For more information about Christmas Box House International, visit their website.