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Charitable works by Utah sports figures and teams continue through pandemic

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been a challenge and a big one at that. The coronavirus pandemic has taken quite a toll on almost every front. That includes charitable works.

Former University of Utah football star Steve Tate, who co-founded the Hayes Tough Foundation with his wife Savanna to honor their son who passed away in 2018, said it’s affected the emotional connection and interaction the organization has with impacted families. Every year, Hayes Tough holds a 5K run and a gala to benefit its effort to provide financial support and hope to those touched by childhood cancer.

It’s the group’s two biggest fundraising events. Both were canceled in 2020 because of social distancing.

“But there are always many generous people out there and we know ultimately that the funds will continue to come in as we continue to reach out to other families that are in need,” Steve said. “Like anything, we’re all facing these challenging times and as a foundation we’re working our way through it.”

Although navigating the situation has been different and a little bit difficult, an annual toy drive and meeting with families around Christmas also had to be canceled. In the process, an emotional connection was lost.

Not to be deterred, the Hayes Tough Foundation found other ways to make an impact. Virtual gatherings and care packages are filling the void for now,

“We’re hoping that we can all get through this and get back to some sort of normalcy,” said Tate, who noted that before the pandemic his family has enjoyed visiting families and surprising them with $5,000 donations. Emotional and financial support are both beneficial.

To assist both, Hayes Tough is preparing to release an app that has been donated to the cause. It allows families to connect with others affected by cancer, including those who have lost a child to it.

 “I think it’s going to be a big boost for the foundation,” Tate said of the step. “Interacting with these families emotionally through this app and creating some sort of online support, we’re excited about that.”

Losing Hayes and then having the foundation hampered by the pandemic is a story in itself for the Tate family.

 “If you get knocked down get back up, dust yourself off. You can’t feel sorry for yourself for too long,” Tate said. “You’ve got to get back in. I think it’s allowed us to heal.” 

It’s also helped them combat the anxiety and depression that challenged many over the past year.

 “We’ve kind of taken it upon ourselves to go help a family in need. It’s amazing how fast your worries seem to dissipate when you go help somebody who’s facing real life problems,” he continued. 

Tate encourages folks to check out HayesTough.org for ways to help others. Monetary donations are always encouraged. So, too, is getting out and showing support for families — perhaps in your own community — dealing with childhood cancer. Ideas on how to assist are on the web site.

Broadcast journalist Tony Parks and his wife, Natalie, are also heavily involved in assisting those in need. They do a variety of things in memory of daughters, Brooklyn and Siobhán, who passed away.

The new norm, at least temporarily, centered around a virtual activity. Parks explained that a project involving Santa and special needs children was a big hit.

 “They’re very much affected by what’s going on. Many of them are at risk and so they can’t leave the house,” Parks said. “Everything’s canceled. Karate lessons are canceled. Miracle League games were canceled. So they were very much afraid that Santa was not coming and Christmas was going to be canceled.”

The big man in the red suit, he added, is the biggest deal ever to those kids. As such, Parks and his group made sure things happened. They did a virtual Santa for several families, including some from places like the Bay Area, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Seattle.

The idea came from a man from Carbon County named Phil Roundy, who is fulfilling a wish his young son was working on before he died a few years ago. He found a piece of paper with plans to give every child a Christmas present each year. Phil put on some weight and became the greatest Santa that Parks has ever seen, especially for those with special needs. 

After getting a scouting report on what to emphasize from parents, Roundy delivered a personalized message via Zoom. They recorded the interactions and sent copies to the families.

It took more than 10 hours to complete and wound up replacing the annual holiday event the Parks have held when social distancing wasn’t an issue. Monetary donations were made to the Road Home, a charity that made sure the kids received what they needed.

Parks also donated all of his game checks — from doing high school games for KJZZ-TV — to people in need. Funding usually used for the annual party and other things was simply redirected because of the pandemic. 

 “This was a year where the actual asking of other people to raise funds was a little tougher. We had to find more personalized individual things,” said Parks, who has quietly made donations for a variety of causes throughout the year. “These things just kind of found us.”

The Utah Grizzlies, meanwhile, have put some charitable works on hold but added others to serve the community during these difficult times.

Jared Youngman, team vice-president, noted they’ve done a handful of blood drives and have enjoyed doing so. Same goes for volunteerism with Salt Lake County’s “Meals on Wheels” program.

 “Every day during the week a staff member will go out and deliver meals to a number of people here within about a five-mile radius of the Maverik Center,” Youngman said. “We’re trying to find ways that we can continue to stay active and do things.”

Youngman added that the organization is determined to keep on keeping on in regards to helping out.

“We’ll continue to find new things. We don’t want to stop anything,” he said. “If we’re going to stop one (because of the pandemic), we’re going to try to pick another thing up and stay active where we can.”

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