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Nephi • George Morgan became one of Santa's biggest helpers in Juab County by mistake.

Twenty-five years ago, he was doing his turn as president of the Lions Club and it fell to him to use the group's $500 in holiday charity money to help two families in need.

"We would buy toys for whoever came to us and said they need help," he said. "There was no organization, per se."

He dropped off the donation to a house — but it seemed to be well-supplied. Then later, when another woman called, he found himself with no money left to help her family.

"I got to feeling bad, so I bought Christmas for her out of my own pocket," said Morgan, a tall 70-year-old with close-cropped white hair and beard. "We needed somebody to be able to tell the right hand what the left is doing."

Morgan became that someone with Sub for Santa. He fielded all the calls from people in need, then coordinated efforts among community organizations. Santa's workshop was his own garage, where he'd store all the toys to be donated. And coordination didn't mean all the needs were taken care of: Morgan says he still spent $3,000 to $4,000 out of his own pocket in those early years.

"Even today, I can't say no to people," he said.

Over the years, as he worked his day job performing X-rays at the Central Valley Medical Center, Morgan built an infrastructure from the ground up with the help of a small group of volunteers. The number of families in need has swelled from 10 in the beginning to a high of 77 last year. He and the other Sub for Santa volunteers have provided gifts to just about every family that has asked from Nephi, Mona and Levan. They don't get any state or federal money — it's all donations from social clubs, businesses and churches in the community.

As it's grown, Morgan has added and adopted new or borrowed ideas. About 20 years ago, he saw something about the concept of an angel tree — a Christmas tree that goes up at the front of a store or party and is decorated with written gift requests from children in need. People pull a card bearing the gender, age, clothing or toy request, size, and angel number, buy the items requested, then drop them back off.

All the toys come to Nephi's own version of the North Pole: A small, nondescript building tucked behind the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum. Inside, the walls are painted with a mural of The Grinch. The walls are lined with toys: Hot Wheels, baby dolls, Play-Doh, Razor scooters, board games and more. The city and county donated the space a few years ago.

Each child gets a combination of toys and clothing, a system Morgan developed for practical reasons with personal inspiration. Growing up, he watched other kids at school wear new clothes to school on the first day back from vacation while he had old things.

"When I grew up, I didn't have much of a Christmas, so I always felt if I could do something for Christmas, I would," he said. Now, he keeps an eye out for good sales all year long, stocking up on coats when it's warm and saving them for the next winter.

Sub for Santa makes the holiday bright not only for the recipients but for the volunteers.

"I enjoy this, I look forward to it every year," said Cathy Adams, who volunteered Thursday in fuzzy boots festooned with jingle bells. "This is my Christmas."

Joy Beal has helped Morgan for 20 years. She coordinates the meal program that gives gift recipients the fixings for a holiday feast along with the children's toys.

"When it started, oftentimes he put the Sub for Santa for the children above himself," Beal said about Morgan. "It's something that's very dear to me. I'll do it until I can't do it anymore."

As for Morgan, he said it's religious faith that keeps him going.

"Because the Lord has commanded us to help and to give. The greatest blessing I have to give is to help other people," he said. Then he got a twinkle in his eye and laughed. "And I can't find anybody to take my place!" Twitter: @lwhitehurst —

How to help

If you'd like to donate or help out with Sub for Santa in Nephi, call George Morgan, 435-623-0307.

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