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SALT LAKE CITY — Associated Food Stores celebrated 75 years of operation Wednesday, not with cake and candles, but by giving 750 hygiene kits to the Homeless Youth Resource Center for Volunteers of America.
Corporate members filled the kits with toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, liquid hand sanitizer, combs and soap.
"This really grounds us in the community," said Tim Conner, Associated Food Stores' vice president of team services. "We are very pleased and humbled that they have supported us for 75 years."
Besides fulfilling basic hygienic needs, the kits will help homeless youths by raising awareness, said Zach Bale, chief developer for Volunteers of America Utah.
"The issue exists," Bale said. "Often it can be really pretty invisible. I don't think folks probably as quickly think, 'Oh gosh, there's youths on the streets.'"
About 65 percent of homeless youths who come to the center at 655 S. State have experienced some form of trauma, including abuse, making them wary of adults, Bale said. With the kits, Bale said he hopes to be able to establish enough trust in the teens that they will come to the center.
This approach works because instead of waiting for homeless youths to come to the center, staff members actively them seek out, Bale said. He said his staff will sometimes hike or bike out to areas ranging from the Jordan River Parkway to City Creek and give the kits to youths, encouraging them to come to the center.
This really grounds us in the community. We are very pleased and humbled that they have supported us for 75 years.
–Tim Conner, Associated Food Stores' VP of team services
"The interesting thing that's both a benefit and a change is youth are really pretty resourceful," Bale said. "So whether you are couch surfing or staying with a friend or camping, it works to be invisible."
The center hosts youths 15-22 years old, he said, and on a typical day, 40 homeless teens come through the center, with busier days hosting about 60. Overall about 800 youths come through the center each year, said Kathy Bray, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Utah.
Volunteers of America relies on donations to help feed, clothe and host the homeless youths, but during the summer, the number of donations dip, said program manager Cat Rogers. Combined with an increase of minors coming to the center, the donations from Associated Food Stores are more than welcome, she said.
"One of the hardest things for our youth is to stay clean on the street," Rogers said. "So I think that having hygiene items is immensely helpful. This donation will tide us over for quite a while, which is great."
Katie Larsen is a Deseret News intern and print journalism senior at Utah State University who graduates in December. Email: email@example.com