SALT’s Teen Town program gives Christmas gifts to local teens

Augustana students come together annually during the holiday season to give to the community’s teens through the Teen Town program. Teen Town is a division of Serving and Learning Together (SALT) that collaborates with Salvation Army’s Toy Town. The team’s goal is to provide Christmas gifts for 500 Sioux Falls teens each year. 

Members of SALT started the program in 2012 after seeing a gap in Toy Town’s reach. Toy Town provides gifts for children up to age 12, and Teen Town picks up from ages 13 to 18. Parents can visit the Salvation Army gym at 800 N. Cliff Ave. to pick gifts for their children from Dec. 21 to Dec. 23.

The Teen Town team traditionally starts fundraising in November, but COVID-19 has accelerated its efforts. 

“I’ve been in Christmas mode since the day I stepped foot on campus,” said junior sociology and journalism major Arianna Forcelle. Forcelle has been on the Teen Town committee since her freshman year and currently serves as co-chair. 

Some of the major fundraiser events include the Bagel Boy and Sunny’s Pizzeria events. On Oct. 26, Bagel Boy donated 10% of their proceeds from 4 p.m. to 7p.m. to the Teen Town program. Sunny’s Pizzeria will be donating two dollars from every pizza they sell on Mondays throughout November. Coldstone Creamery has also donated gift cards to be included in the gift packages. 

Teen Town receives the majority of its funds from local business donations and fundraisers, but they also accept personal donations. 

Individuals interested in Teen Town involvement can make monetary donations or purchase gifts that are valued at around $25. Students can also volunteer at the Salvation Army during the December distribution days. 

“It’s really awesome to see the parents come in and be super involved in that,” said senior psychology major Isabella Eveleth-Jensen, who is the president of SALT and works with Teen Town. “They’re so grateful to be able to pick out gifts for their teens.” 

COVID-19 has affected more than just fundraising dates. The distribution is usually held on one day but has been expanded to three this year. Meals are also usually given out with the gifts, but the committee is unsure if this will be possible during the pandemic. 

“Being a part of this program has helped me to understand my privilege,” said sophomore elementary education major Kinzie Gullikson, who serves alongside Forcelle as co-chair.  “I never thought about how not everyone gets a Christmas gift. It’s just really fun, too, to work with a committee and hear from people in our community and see our community of Sioux Falls come together to support this program.”

Gullikson and Forcelle take a few days to use donation and fundraiser money to purchase the gifts while keeping each at a $25 value and centering them around a theme. The date for receiving donations was also pushed up to Oct. 30 since coronavirus is sending students home early.

Students can get involved with the program by reaching out to the SALT committee or to Gullikson and Forcelle directly. They can also attend the SALT large group meetings that are held on the first Wednesday of each month. The Nov. 4 meeting focused on making 500 stocking stuffers to accompany the Christmas gifts. 

“It’s just a great way to give back, and it honestly feels so good knowing that everything we’re doing for teen town is affecting some teens’ Christmas for the better,” said Forcelle. “It’s just a good way to start the Christmas joy.”

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