CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — The impact of today’s economic challenges on local families is undeniable. Nearly 700 Washington County students are currently experiencing homelessness, and thousands more are living at or below the poverty line.

A vehicle full of donated items from the Wish Trees drive, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Stephen Wade Auto Center, St. George News

With the holidays just around the corner, Stephen Wade Auto Center has partnered with Switchpoint, Youth Futures, the Washington County School District and the Washington County Children’s Justice Center to collect essential items for at-risk kids. This marks the sixth year of their Wish Trees fundraising drive.

“Children and families in Southern Utah need our help,” said Jamie Bahlmann, public relations director for Stephen Wade Auto Center. “We want to ensure members of our community have the supplies they need.”

Located inside all of the Stephen Wade dealerships on Auto Mall Drive are Wish Trees with tags that include specific items needed by each organization. Choose a tag from the tree, purchase the item and drop it off at any dealership. Donations will be accepted through Dec. 20.


The mission of Switchpoint is to address poverty and homelessness in Southern Utah by providing a comprehensive plan to support individuals and families on their journey to self-sufficiency. The organization offers emergency shelter, food, housing, employment and services such as 24/7 child care.

Switchpoint’s shelter needs many essentials, including travel-size hygiene items, underwear, winter coats, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, blankets, sleeping bags, gas cards, grocery cards and SunTran bus passes. Items for the soup kitchen include paper plates, plastic utensils, paper towels, grocery bags, garbage bags, dish soap and disposable gloves.

Youth Futures

Youth Futures provides safe shelter, collaborative resources, respectful guidance and diverse support to homeless, unaccompanied, runaway and at-risk youth ages 12-18. Along with case management, they offer overnight shelter and drop-in services allowing access to food, clothing, hygiene items, laundry facilities and computer stations. Stephen Wade Auto Center has been involved with Youth Futures since their St. George shelter opened in 2018.

“We can always depend on their generosity for warm clothes, coats, hats, gloves and other holiday gifts,” executive director Kristen Mitchell said. “They bring the business and nonprofit sectors together to meet the needs of those who have less. I don’t know what we would do without them!”

Youth Futures is asking for donations to enhance the teen-oriented, home-like setting of the shelter. Needed items include cleaning supplies, office supplies, pajamas, sneakers, sweatpants, hoodies, T-shirts, art supplies, individually wrapped snacks and more.

Washington County School District Foundation

A vehicle full of donated items from the Wish Trees drive, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Stephen Wade Auto Center, St. George News

The purpose of the Washington County School District Foundation is to enhance the quality of education for all students, including those experiencing housing insecurity. The foundation helps at-risk students through the Counselor’s Closet program by stocking a closet with snacks, clothes, hygiene items and more for every school counselor to distribute as needed.

“This school year, we have identified 675 students who currently qualify as homeless. This number is up this year because we’re seeing a lot more people losing their homes due to the rising housing costs,” said Brian Gunnell, student services at-risk coordinator and homeless liaison for the Washington County School District.

“All of these kids are just like any other kid and are trying to do their best in school despite the challenges their families are facing,” Gunnell added. “What we as a community do to support them is extremely important, as even small amounts of resources can make a huge difference.”

Items on the foundation’s wish list this year include blankets, coats, shoes, socks, underwear and pajamas. They’re also accepting Walmart gift cards.

Washington County Children’s Justice Center

The Washington County Children’s Justice Center is a safe, welcoming place where children victimized by abuse and other crimes can begin their path to healing. A multidisciplinary team provides interviews, victim advocacy, medical care and trauma-focused mental health care for kids and supportive family members. Although the center receives some funding from the county and state, the vast majority of its operational budget is supported by grants and donations from community partners.

“While our work can be heavy, it is also hopeful,” director Kristy Pike said. “Much of the optimism we feel comes as we see the support of our community. We could not do what we do without the good people of Washington County.”

The center is seeking gift cards to Walmart, Amazon, Costco and local grocery stores. Additional needs include food pantry items (bottled water, soda, individually packaged snacks, paper towels), office supplies (paperclips, stamps, white copy paper) and hygiene products (pads, tampons, diapers, wipes). Monetary donations will help fund the expansion of the facility and victims’ services.

Click here to view a complete list of items needed by all four organizations. Donations will be distributed before Christmas.

“We are so grateful to Switchpoint, Youth Futures, the Washington County Children’s Justice Center and the Washington County School District Foundation for recognizing the needs in our community. We look forward to this time each year to provide a convenient location to collect items to be distributed to at-risk youth and families in our area,” Bahlmann said. “In addition, our community is amazing with donating items, and we couldn’t do this without their help.”

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Written by ALEXA MORGAN for St. George News.

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