Every Christmas season, Terri Jensen has an overwhelming amount of presents to wrap. Like, overwhelming. So many in fact, that when her home ran out of room to place all the gifts and wrapping paper, a friend volunteered warehouse space for extra storage.
Last year the presents totaled a thousand, each of which was hand-wrapped and given to residents of the Salt Lake City area in desperate need - Immigrants, refugees, homeless, the mentally and physically handicapped, and widows with young children. With each gift, Christmas became a reality for someone who would otherwise have received nothing.
Terri never aspired to be the Santa of Salt Lake, but life has taught her to expect the unexpected. An elementary school teacher for twenty years, she was in the middle of fulfilling a lifelong dream of earning her master’s degree, with hopes of continuing on to a doctorate, when her 16-year old daughter Emily was in a car accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury.
Terri’s life was put on hold as she became Emily’s full-time caretaker. She attended high school with her every day, pushing her to class in her wheelchair, taking notes for her, and adapting and coordinating her schoolwork with teachers to make it possible for Emily to still ‘graduate’ with her peers.
Twenty-two years later she continues to care for Emily full time, and service is a way of life.
Every Christmas since she and her husband Larry were married, they have participated in Sub for Santa. When she began teaching school, she realized there were desperate needs among her students and within the community that she could never alleviate herself. Eager to do more, she and Larry founded “Heart and Hands Sub-for-Santa” to rally friends, neighbors and the community in a giving effort. Since then, she has spent thousands of hours assessing needs and collecting, wrapping and distributing gifts.
In the words of her daughter, Jenny McArthur, “This isn’t a wealthy woman who sits on boards and attends fancy gala fundraising events. This is a woman in the trenches. A woman who cares full time for an adult handicapped daughter, who worked full time as a school teacher for years, and who now in her golden years works full time in the trenches of charitable work year round.” And, she adds, “She is as thoughtful of the one as she is the many.”
In addition to her efforts with Heart and Hands, Terri also works with volunteers on Navajo Nation reservations to provide delivery of much-needed supplies, and is actively involved in charitable organizations in Africa. She coordinates thousands of pounds of donations a year to be sent to Zimbabwe, and serves on a committee to help provide equitable schooling opportunities for women there.
Whoever said that Christmas is how people act the way they should the rest of the year never met Terri Jensen. For her it's not a season of giving but a lifetime, of the kind of gift no amount of wrapping paper could contain.
I am so excited to share, along with Terri's story, a simple but impactful way to assist her efforts to provide for those who suffer. Because of COVID there is not only a greater need among the most vulnerable this holiday season, it also is easier than ever to get involved.
Terri's "Heart and Hands Sub-for-Santa" has been working with licensed Social Workers to locate individuals with physical and/or intellectual disabilities living at the poverty level. Together, they have determined that the most helpful gift for this community are grocery store gift cards.
The next time you find yourself at the grocery store or online, please consider purchasing a gift card to contribute (Wal-Mart gift cards are best). Donations will be accepted until January 12th, and can be mailed to:
Too Often Forgotten
P.O. Box 159
Clearfield, Utah 84089