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Taylorsville Journal

The Gift of Giving

Nov 28, 2014 07:24AM ● By Tom Haraldsen
It might be to carry on a family tradition, or to remember a loved one, or simply to help someone in need. It might be to solicit the smile of a child, or to repay someone’s kindness from the past. Whatever the reason, this is the season for giving.

For Taylorsville residents, there are myriad opportunities this holiday season to do just that. 


It was 31 years ago that Christine Katsilas, who teaches interior design classes at Taylorsville High School, decided her class needed a service project. So she chose to contribute an entry into the Festival of Trees, which raises donations for Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. She’s had entries every year since.

“That first year, they allowed real trees, so I had a student’s father cut down a fresh tree and we started with that,” Katsilas recalled. “We decorated it in part with some homemade gingerbread cookies. It was very humble compared to the trees that we see today, but it sold the first night, so we were excited about that.”

Since then, Katsilas’ tree “assignment” to her students has become as much a passion as a tradition. Her advanced interior design students have embraced the Festival of Trees, helping her select ornaments and organize themes for their trees. And her preparation for the next festival begins as soon as the current festival ends.

“Through the years, I’ve learned to stockpile ornaments. One year, we did a Hallmark tree with ornaments I bought after the holidays, when they were marked down. We’ve also done trees with cookie cutter ornaments.”

She said planning ahead was something her mother, who died in the winter of 1999, was great at doing. 

“She always came to the festival, and in those days, they didn’t assign you spots as they do now. So she’d come early and pick a good spot for us to put up our tree,” Katsilas said.

 This year, she and her students will have two trees at the festival (locations L-19 and L-21). “Elegance” will feature colors of maroon, gold and orange, with sugared fruit. “I found some of the ornaments at Sears a few years ago and put them in storage,” she said. “I just buy the ornaments myself for the class to use, because I know my students are worth it.”

Her second tree, “Santa’s Circus,” has a lot of ornaments that she also purchased on closeout from J.C. Penney’s. “I went to every Penney’s I could find along the Wasatch Front,” she said with a smile.

The most expensive tree she’s seen sold in her 31 years went for over $5,000. Most are sold in the $1,500-2,000 range, and she says it’s always exciting when the trees sell the first night, when bidders come in for a private ceremony.

“As long as the trees can earn at least $500 more than what they cost, we’re happy,” she said.

This is the third year that Heidi Blair and two of her friends have an entry in the festival. The first was 20 years ago, when Blair and three longtime friends created a tree. In 2011, one of those friends, Sherri Winder, was killed in a car accident, so Blair and friends Shauna Westberg and Ginger Anderton created a tree in Sherri’s honor.

“We used to call ourselves the ‘Four Musketeers,’” Blair said. “Now, we call ourselves the ‘Three Musketeers,’ but we always think of Sherri when we’re creating a tree.”

This year’s entry is “Believe in the Magic” (space H-19), a tribute to their late parents.

“It’s kind of a whimsical, fun tree, really, with no specific story behind it,” she said. “It’s all done in bright green, red and white, with ribbons, lights, elves, moose and more.”

For all Festival of Trees participants, the trees are assembled at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy on Dec. 1, and a closed auction/sale is conducted on Dec. 2. Most of the trees are sold that night. The public then can enjoy the festival Dec. 3-6. All proceeds go to Primary’s. Each year, this event raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for the hospital.

And there’s a lot of other ways to give back to the community:


There are hundreds of families without a place to call their own each day, and at the holidays, The Road Home (210 South Rio Grange St., Salt Lake City) provides food and shelter. Volunteers can help assemble boxes that include grocery store cards (for turkeys, hams or pies), plus a disposable roasting pan, canned veggies, stuffing, instant potatoes and gravy mix. There’s also a Candy Cane Corner for families. The shelter also accepts unwrapped gifts for children, and gift bags with hygiene items and warm accessories for residents. More info at


For many years, the Utah State Hospital has coordinated this program for individuals who cannot be with families for Christmas. This year, about 300 patients will be remembered through gift donations for adult and teen patients. The public can sponsor a patient by calling Shawna Peterson at 801-344-4254.


There are three FSCs in the Salt Lake Valley, the closest one to Taylorsville being at 3663 South 3600 West. The center’s administrative office is located at 1760 West 4805 South here in Taylorsville, where donations can be dropped off. The centers support parents who need temporary “time outs” for work or health reasons, and they work with single-parent and dual-parent families. 

Last year, the centers offered help to more than 2,200 children through a number of programs. During the holidays, particular needs include donations of infant formula and diapers (something the centers can use all year long). 


Sub for Santa programs are run through many civic organizations and the United Way. 

The Salvation Army offers food to the needy, social services and addiction rehabilitation, and has its Red Kettle Campaign manning doors at many supermarkets. Members of the Taylorsville Exchange Club will be assisting with the kettles of the Salvation Army in front of the Taylorsville Harmon’s grocery store on Dec. 20. 

Coupled with many church groups and businesses, finding ways to give back to the community this holiday season is not only easy, but joyful.      
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