By Danielle Lankford, Communications Specialist
State Street. Salt Lake City. A chilling December wind blows and a tent ruffles in the breeze. Two young men are camping out just in front of the I-80 freeway exit, but they aren't camping out for crazy holiday deals. They're camping out for a cause.
Michael Castillo's dad had a crazy idea fifteen years ago. He set up a tent on State Street, contacted some local radio stations, and told them he would be there for three days collecting donations for Guadalupe families for the holidays. Michael said, "When my dad did it, he was an aide for the third grade class here. I think for him, just being able to see all the families helped start this. He was always worried about them." Michael remembers his dad feeling a deep connection to the students and parents he interacted with here, and his generosity had a lasting impact on Michael as well. "For me growing up," he said, "I don't know if I always quite understood what he was doing, but it always stuck with me over the years."
So, this year, everything fell into place for Michael to recreate his dad's Campout for Christmas with the help of his friend of 19 years, Chase Kallas. "One day, Mike texted me and told me about what his dad did. I said if I didn't happen to work that week, I'll campout with you," Chase said. He was excited by the idea to carry on this tradition of giving, and it just so happened, he had the days off from work.
Last Wednesday, Michael and Chase printed some flyers, contacted some local media, and set out with their tent and sleeping bags to set up on State Street. They also invited all their Facebook friends to come down, and created a GoFundMe page for their friends and family all over the US to send donations. They began receiving donations of toys, gift cards, and cash that very first night. Chase said, "It was kind of amazing just to see random people pull up, give some toys, and be on their way." Michael says the response from the community was very positive, but some people thought they were crazy!
And how could you not? They spent THREE days living on State Street just to give to our families for the holidays. Even they thought it was crazy at times. "There were times when it was cold and horrible. It was a good thing Chase was there for me, because I'd just be like 'Dude, I'm so done and exhausted.' but we'd make a joke and then I'd be like 'Okay, I can do this for another hour' and then every hour, we did that," Michael said.
Overall, Chase and Michael said it was worth it to give to our families who work hard to succeed in their education and beyond. Michael said, "I got a lot of text messages from family saying they were proud of me. I think my parents were pretty happy." And these guys made our Early Learning Center and Adult students very happy too. All in all, they collected lots of educational toys for the little ones and about $1100 in gift cards for the adults to use for their children. What an amazing way to honor the spirit of holiday giving! We hope this story inspires you to pass it on.