HOLLADAY — As most children began writing their lists for Santa, a trio of Utah siblings worked to make other kids' Christmas wishes come true.
The owners of KidBreadBakery — 11-year-old Ellie White and her siblings Henry, 9, and Penny, 6 — made hundreds of rolls the day before Thanksgiving to raise money for kids in foster care after learning Salt Lake and Utah counties can't fund their Christmas presents this year due to financial strain caused by the pandemic.
"I think it really makes me feel like I can make a difference. Because I know that I will be getting presents this Christmas, but all those other kids might not get presents this Christmas. And I know that that just probably feels devastating. So I really feel just happy being able to donate this money to kids who I know, because of me, will be getting Christmas this year," Ellie said.
It won't be the first time she and her siblings worked hard to reach a goal.
Two years ago, the two oldest White kids — then a third-grader and first-grader — wanted to go to summer camp. But their parents told them they needed to find a way to earn the money to pay for it themselves.
"We'd been thinking a lot about what we could do to help the kids kind of understand money a little bit better. And I told them, 'Sure, you can go if you can make the money. And of course they were like, 'Kids can't do that, kids can't make that much money,'" Emily White recalled.
That prompted a brainstorming session as they thought about what they could do.
"And I am a big fan of bread, and they've always helped me whenever I've baked rolls or baked bread, or whatever. They're always great helpers," White said.
She suggested they bake bread to earn money for the summer camp.
"And so they did it, and they wrote out cute little flyers and they took them around the neighborhood. And neighbors were so great to support them. And they earned enough money pretty quick," the mom said.
They could've stopped then. But instead, they set their sights on an even bigger goal — Disneyland. They made enough money to pay for the tickets.
"It took a while for them to be able to do it themselves, but at this point I get them up in the morning and they do all the baking, and they're better at it than I am," White said.
Since then, they've continued making loaves of bread each week to fulfill orders from neighbors. Each Tuesday, Ellie wakes up first to mix Swiss bread before she goes to school. Her brother Henry wakes up a bit later to mix the wheat bread. And then the youngest, Penny, wakes up and twists the Swiss bread and places the breads in the oven.
The eight loaves of bread they make each week typically sell out. But when the siblings want to save for something specific, they make more. Most of the profits go into their college savings accounts, White said.
"I think me and my brother just kind of liked the sense of being in charge of our own business and earning money by selling bread to people. It was just kind of cool to be able to make money. Because before this we thought kids could never make $20 or so in a month like that but now we know kids can do a lot if they just stick it," Ellie explained.
This year, though, they wanted to give back.
They learned that Brighter Futures — a foster care agency that recruits and trains families to be able to take care of children who have faced trauma, neglect, abuse, maltreatment or exploitation — wasn't getting funding from Salt Lake and Utah counties this year to pay for Christmas gifts for the 80 kids in its system.
Tina Worton, Brighter Futures program director, said that despite the pandemic, people throughout the community have already stepped in to help.
"It's just really, it's an uncertain time for kids in state's custody, because they're experiencing all of these different emotions. They feel alienated, they want to isolate themselves, they feel depression and anxiety. They feel the pressure to have expectations during Christmas, because they look at all these kids in their school and in their neighborhoods that talk about what Christmas is like in their families," Worton said.
"But what most people don't know is these kids, they feel so alone during a time where everyone else is feeling the spirit of love, the spirit of family, and the spirit of giving, so it's really, really awesome that a lot of people are reaching out. Because gifts are not just materialistic items to kids, it is an expression that they matter and that their little needs matter, and that their voices matter, and that their life matters," she said.
She said that despite the pandemic, the community has pulled together to help give kids a Christmas. The agency has received enough donations, with help from those like the Whites, to provide gifts for the 80 kids in its care.
Now, Brighter Futures has teamed up with two other agencies — with 160 kids in foster care — to provide them Christmas gifts. Those interested in donating can contact Worton at email@example.com.
Kids "have the power" to help others, Ellie said.
"I would say, they don't have to start a bread business or get up early every Tuesday to make bread. Honestly, if they just wanted to like mow their neighbors' lawn, and not ask any money for it, or do other service projects for people, they can do that. And kids can do what they're doing now, they could raise $150 if they really wanted to. You could start a lawn mowing business, you could do a bread business like us," Ellie said.