Victor Lopez, left, and his mother Hilda sort through coats being distributed by Operation Warm inside the Salt Lake County Library in South Salt Lake on Saturday. The family said they were so “grateful.” (Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)
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SOUTH SALT LAKE – Hundreds of children and their parents lined up at the Granite branch of the Salt Lake County Library on Saturday, excited for new coats, shoes and books.
The library helps provide new coats, shoes and books to around 400 children in South Lake Salt. Sara Neal, with the Salt Lake County Library, said they have reached out to families through local elementary schools and nonprofits designed to help refugees.
The turnout was more than they expected; library workers and volunteers handed out coats until they were gone.
Neal said the county library has partnered with Operation Warm, a national non-profit organization that produces high quality coats and shoes for children in need since 2019. The group holds charity events at different library branches once or twice a year.
In addition to providing access to some basic needs, the goal of the event is to bring children to their neighborhood library branch and help families see what resources the library has to offer, Neal said.
“Families who don’t have many resources, if they can’t buy a coat, sometimes they can’t buy a book for their children either; and we want to help support all the early learning, and just the prestige that happens when people come here,” he said.
Viri Lopez is a single mother with three children, so she said finances are a bit of a pressure. The opportunity to get warm coats for her children was a big help. She said she was grateful to receive a message from her children’s school to inform her of the opportunity.
She works from home, but since work starts before her children go to school, they need to walk or get a ride with a neighbor, Lopez said. Now, they will be able to be warm when they need to walk and she can’t be with them.
Because work is busy, Lopez has also not been able to bring her children to the library, as she said when she gets off work, she cooks dinner for her children. She said her children enjoyed some rare time away from home at the library on Saturday.
“It helps them get distracted and get outside a little bit,” Lopez said.
Neal said it was worth it to see hundreds of families come through the line. He said many of the people who came through were part of the refugee community and may not have experienced a cold winter before.
“Being able to offer them an opportunity of warmth and comfort during the winter is very important,” he said.
After Neal watched the group of people huddle on a cold morning, she said she was very happy they had coats to give out.
She hopes the event will also help people know about resources in the new Granithfaen library and take advantage of the books, online resources, citizenship classes, language learning, tutoring and after school programs.