OREM, Utah — An enthusiastic crowd welcomed the opening of the iconic red Giving Machines in the west wing of University Place in Orem, Utah, on Tuesday night, Nov. 23. After a COVID-19 pandemic-caused pause last year, the popular way to donate to charitable causes is now back for the 2021 Christmas season.
“Let’s light the world!” sang the Bonner Family from a stage full of wrapped presents, garlands and decorated lighted Christmas trees. “The time is now to walk with Him in goodness,” they sang.
Then local dignitaries, charity sponsors and officials from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped unwrap the machines and made the first purchases.
Elder Vaiangina Sikahema, a General Authority Seventy, helped his granddaughter buy chickens to go to a family in need in another country. He said it was an easy first choice.
“As a boy in Tonga, we ate chicken for Christmas. So I figured, someone could get three chickens — and it’s a good price, too,” he said.
Giving Machines have raised almost $9 million for charities since they first were unveiled in 2017. Elder Sikahema says that giving spirit is at the very essence of what it means to be a Christian.
“We encourage people to ‘light the world,’” said Elder Sikahema.
The large, rectangular and red Giving Machines are now well-recognized after several years. They are like a vending machine, where people can select a charitable item from dozens of local and global charity organizations. These include clean water, produce, meals, cooking supplies, eyeglasses, vaccines, skills training and educational supplies. The livestock options — like goats, pigs and chickens — are available again.
Global charities include CARE, Church World Service, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF and WaterAid. More than 40 local charity sponsors are also participating, and the initiative lasts through the Christmas season.
One hundred percent of all donations go directly to each charity, with the Church covering all expenses, including credit card transaction fees. In 2020, the Giving Machines were not open because of the global pandemic. But the year previously, they raised nearly $6.3 million for charity.
This year’s initiative is named “Light the World With Love.”
Utah Valley Institute of Religion students will be staffing the Orem Giving Machines in the evenings. LaDean Gillman, the region administrative assistant for the institute, is encouraging the students to take a date when they go volunteer.
“It’s a perfect date, because they can come here to the mall and they will be serving others together,” she said.
Over the last several weeks, the machines have been opening throughout the United States. As of Dec. 1, all 10 locations for the machines are accepting donations. They will continue to take donations through Jan. 1, 2022. For more details about sponsors or locations and how to donate without visiting a Giving Machine, visit churchofjesuschrist.org/comeuntochrist/light-the-world-2021/giving-machines.
Here are the locations and opening dates for 2021 around the U.S.:
- Las Vegas, Nevada — the Downtown Summerlin Mall, Nov. 3
- Nashville, Tennessee — Bridgestone Arena, Nov. 18
- Honolulu, Hawaii — Pearlridge Center, Nov. 20
- Denver, Colorado — Writer Square, Nov. 22
- Orem, Utah — University Place, Nov. 23
- Salt Lake City, Utah — City Creek Center, Nov. 24
- Oakland, California — Temple Hill, Nov. 27
- Gilbert, Arizona — Water Tower Plaza, Nov. 29
- Kansas City, Missouri — Crown Center, Nov. 30
- New York City, New York — Rockefeller Center, Nov. 30
Christmas lights shone on all the trees and landscaping on Oakland Temple Hill as local Church and civic leaders and charity sponsors gathered to celebrate the opening of the Light the World Giving Machines on Saturday evening Nov. 27.
They held the opening remarks and musical numbers inside the chapel at the Oakland Interstake Center. A Tongan men’s quartet sang “Oh, Come All ye Faithful” (“Mou ha’u kainga”) and a Tongan choir sang “Angels We Have Heard on High” (“Fanongoa kau ʻĀngelo”).
Then they went outside, where former BYU football player and current San Francisco 49er Corbin Kaufusi helped cut the ribbon to officially open the Giving Machines for business. At 6-foot-9, he towered over the others and was all smiles as he spoke to the crowd.
“A lot of people want to believe that we are naturally selfish,” Kaufusi said. But, he explained, the opposite is true. “We are naturally inclined to give and to serve others. I am so blessed to be up here amongst such amazing people that do so much in the community. So, I just think, wow, let’s just keep giving.”
Contra Costa County Supervisor Candace J. Kay Andersen, who also emceed the launch event, said: “We are so fortunate to have the San Francisco Bay Area selected as just one of 10 locations in the world to host a Giving Machine. Because there are so many unmet needs in our community, and in the world, this is a unique and special opportunity for individuals and families to support others during this season of joy where we celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas.”
One of the charity sponsors in Oakland is George Mark Children’s House. The organization’s CEO, Linda Ashcroft Hudak, said they were incredibly grateful for the warm, welcoming reception on Saturday, Nov. 27, at the launch. Hudak said the exposure and donations received will help them give more care and services.
The Giving Machines are now back for the third year in downtown Gilbert, Arizona. The launch event at the Water Tower Plaza on Monday, Nov. 29, included Sister Betty Banja from Catholic Charities blessing the four Giving Machines.
“This machine is the light to shine in the darkness to our brothers and sisters who are in need. Thank you all for being the light in the lives of our brothers and sisters,” she said.
Local organizer Fran Lowder joked that they were having a friendly competition with the nine other locations around the U.S., and she hopes Arizonans help the Gilbert location get the most donations. “We are excited for these local agencies to have their needs met. They have specifically picked and chosen items to go into the Giving Machines that serve their needs.”
Lowder said the local charities “are in the trenches every day.”
St. Mary’s Food Bank in Gilbert said they were able to provide 700,000 meals in one year because of generous donations people made in 2019 at the Giving Machines. They were not open in 2020, but people also went online to donate during the annual Light the World service initiative.
“Gilbert is known as Kindness USA and we are honored to host the Giving Machines for 2021,” Mayor Brigette Peterson said. “Also, there is a large, giving community in the Phoenix Metro area and I expect residents to make the drive to Gilbert to participate in this #LightTheWorld experience. Thank you to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for ensuring that 100% of the proceeds go to the nonprofits.”
New York City, New York
The Giving Machine in New York has moved this year to Rockefeller Center, where it is expected to get a lot of attention and visits from people also going to see the iconic Christmas tree and skating rink. It opened on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 30.
“Every year, the world needs a message of giving. This message of giving is encompassed here in these Giving Machines, where it makes it possible for people to give to people in need, and do so in a way where 100% of every dollar comes to them,” said David Checketts, former president and CEO of Madison Square Garden and former president of the England London Mission.
New York City is known for Broadway shows and plays, but the industry has suffered from shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Actors Fund is one of the charity organizations benefiting from the New York City Giving Machines. Several other local groups are also included.
“What we do outside, determines how sincere we are inside. So thank you to the Church, for allowing us to be part of that service. And together with our respective lights, let’s bring a lot more illumination into a world that needs us,” Rabbi Joseph Potasnik said at the opening. He is the executive vice president of The New York Board of Rabbis.
“The word for giving in Hebrew is a palindrome that can be read the same way forward or backward, teaching us that when we give, we also receive,” Rabbi Potasnik said.
Kansas City, Missouri
It was a beautiful sunny, clear day for the Midwest as the wrapping paper came off the Giving Machine at Crown Center in Kansas City on Tuesday, Nov. 30. A drum line and choir performed for the large crowd gathered outdoors.
They even had a pen with a few goats inside for photo opportunities. Goats and other livestock are some of the most popular choices picked by donors at the machines.
This is the first time a Light the World Giving Machine has been in Kansas City. Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela, a General Authority Seventy, helped with the opening, and said it was his first experience with the Giving Machines.
“The spirit that I felt today at the unwrapping of the Giving Machines was special. It’s a way of helping people to become united — to remember their values and to bring their hearts back to people, back to those in need,” he said.
Heidi and Patrick Meadows, from Holt, Missouri, plan to take their four children soon.
“We are so excited to have the Giving Machine come to Kansas City. Crown Center will be a great place for them, since so many people visit from all around during the holidays,” said Heidi Meadows. “We hope to take our children so that they can be there to see and experience it with us. We want them to learn that giving is better than receiving.”
Salt Lake City
The Giving Machines this year in Salt Lake City are at City Creek Center mall’s outside food court. At the opening event on Wednesday, Nov. 24, Elder Kevin W. Pearson, General Authority Seventy and president of the Utah Area, said it was appropriate to have the kickoff event the day before Thanksgiving, because Thanksgiving is a time when people think of their blessings, and what they can do for others.
“I hope that is what people do, that particularly this year, they realize that by looking outward, we can see needs all around you, and find ways to lift and love and serve other people. It really is the antidote to the problems we have of the day. It would draw us closer together and bring us more happiness if we would just look outward, and stop looking inward,” said Elder Pearson.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and first lady Abby Cox and representatives of several charitable foundations spoke to the assembled group before tearing the wrapping paper off the machines and making the first purchases.
“During this Christmas time of giving, we invite you to give to all these foundations and give back and give forward,” said Aaron Ibarra with the Good Samaritan Foundation.
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Las Vegas, Nevada, Giving Machine was the first to open this season. It started taking donations on Nov. 3 at the Downtown Summerlin Mall.
Volunteers say it has been busy since, with several touching examples of people coming up to donate, including a 91-year-old man who invited his family to get a gift for his birthday by buying things for others, and two women who raised $1,000 through their book group and donated that.
A group of high school students from American Heritage Academy in Henderson, Nevada, also stopped by with $860 in proceeds from a school fundraiser.
“Our National Honor Society chapter sold ice cream at our fall festival to raise money to serve the community,” said Brooklynn Wirig. “We decided to donate the money to the Giving Machine this year. You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a soccer ball and make someone really happy. Many of the students donated their own money in addition. It was an awesome experience for everyone.”
Her brother, Carter Wirig, added: “Who doesn’t love giving chickens away? I’m so grateful my school gave me the opportunity to visit the Giving Machine this year. I had a lot of fun serving with my friends.”
It surprised and pleased their head of school, Laurel Beckstead, who said the students made that decision on their own. “I’m very pleased to see how they took the lead to do service,” she said, adding how they chose the Giving Machine because they had confidence the proceeds from their donations would go 100% to those sponsor charities.
The Giving Machine in Nashville, Tennessee, opened Thursday, Nov. 18, at Bridgestone Arena, home of the NHL Nashville Predators hockey team. Longtime assistant coach and former NHL player Brent Peterson helped with the opening-day festivities.
“They’ve raised lots of money over the years, they do a great job and they really stepped it up a lot. There was music, and we had good speeches. Then we cut the ribbon, and we were one of the first to put the card in the slot,” he said.
This is the first time a Giving Machine has come to Nashville.
“They have some great charities and 100% of the money goes to the charities. It was cold for Nashville, but we had a good turnout. People had a great time. I even bought a goat,” said Peterson.
Nashville Deputy Mayor Brenda Haywood said the kickoff event was humbling and emotionally overwhelming for her.
“It brought tears as individuals lined up in front of the Giving Machines to donate, demonstrating love for one another as they love themselves, such an overt expression of the human spirit. I am thankful to all that were responsible for this beautiful event,” she said.
This year the Hawaii location for a Giving Machine is at Aiea’s Pearlridge Center in Honolulu. It opened on Saturday, Nov. 20. In 2019, it was at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie.
“We are so blessed and honored that Honolulu is one of 10 cities in the United States to have the Giving Machines, which are located at Pearlridge Center, one of the busiest shopping malls in Hawai’i,” said organizer Mufi Hannemann. “During this Christmas season, we encourage the people of our great state to share their aloha by making a donation to our four worthy, local non-profit organizations so they can help all of those in need.“
One of the non-profits includes the Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Islands. Their divisional commander, Major Phil Lum, said they were honored to be a recipient of the Giving Machine fundraising initiative: “The needs of those in our island communities are great, and we are encouraged that the funds donated will keep hope marching on for those we serve Mahalo to Latter-day Saint Charities for making us a part of this project.”
A Giving Machine opened on Monday, Nov. 22, at Writer’s Square on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver, Colorado.
“When we think about the opportunity that this incredible campaign gives, nonprofits that have long been established in our community get to make an amazing impact in partnership with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Charles Gilford, the chair of the Mayor’s Faith Council at the launch event.
Elder Frederick K. Balli Jr., an Area Seventy, said the Light the World initiative is an invitation to do as Jesus did, to serve in homes and communities around the world.
”We are delighted to have you all here,” said Elder Balli to the local nonprofit sponsors there to kick off the opening. “The love and the encouragement that you offer within our community is quite remarkable. We are so pleased to be able to work with you.“
Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said he was honored that Denver would be participating again, after seeing the success of previous years and the difference the donations made for the community.