While Santa’s elves are busy building toys at the North Pole for a Christmas delivery, some of those elves are planning holiday help for Santa in Utah County.

Shannon McCarty, United Way operations director, and her group of volunteers are starting their Sub-for-Santa and Angel Tree preparations a little earlier this year due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. While Sub-for-Santa is for families, the Angel Tree is typically for individuals in need.

For the first time in the program’s 38-year history, applicants will not be having face-to-face interaction with volunteers, according to McCarty.

“Typically we have an open house where we normally meet face-to-face. Volunteers sit and go through the application process,” McCarty said. “This year we’re partnering with the Provo Public Library and will have a drive-up application process. We’ll also be getting help from Google Fiber.”

Beginning Oct. 21 and running through mid-December, applicants can stay in their cars. They will answer questions through a computer set-up that allows a volunteer to help as the application is completed, according to McCarty.

The applicants also will be connected to other resources for families to use throughout the year, McCarty said.

“We are still working through all the resources there are to connect to,” McCarty said. “Talking with applicants and sharing is so important, we encourage them to call 211, and they can connect to resources. We ask them to remember that.”

Like many other nonprofits that see an increase of needs during the holidays, Sub-for-Santa is no different.

“We’re anticipating an increase.” McCarty said.

United Way is working on technology to use in the schools and with school counselors who know much more about the family needs and who is in need, so the group can help as many as possible.

“With increasing partnerships, we are hopefully going to get to the families that need it the most,” McCarty said. “We work on a case-by-case needs basis.”

Last year Sub-for-Santa helped 1,700 families in Utah County, which included 5,200 children.

“The numbers have been growing every year for at least the past five years,” McCarty said.

With the current pandemic, Sub-for-Santa is having to make some adjustments.

“We are much more careful on sanitizing gifts,” McCarty said. “There will be more shifts and we need more volunteers.”

Rather the wrapping presents, sponsor families are invited, if they wish, to provide paper, tape, bows and ribbons. It also allows the family to be a part of the fun of Christmas.

When it comes to sponsors, McCarty said there is always a balancing act.

“In the beginning, we have sponsors that want to be connected to family. As Christmas gets closer, some decide they just can’t do it themselves, so they come to Sub-for-Santa,” McCarty said. “We always have a need for sponsors close to Christmas.”

When McCarty says close to Christmas, that often means Dec. 22 or 23.

During the holidays, the Daily Herald runs stories and information on families in need in each day’s paper to let the public see the needs of the community.