Giving Machines are magnets for love in EV

The Giving Machines return to Gilbert annually and have been a Mecca for generous people throughout the East Valley. Among those marking their return Nov. 18 were, from left, Dr. Grace Nkundabantu, founder and CEO of African Girls Hope Foundation; Ruthy Hodges of Special Olympics Arizona; and Chandler City Councilwoman Christine Ellis. For a story on their importance, see page 11 (Cecilia Chan/Tribune)

Tis the season of giving – especially in Gilbert, where the popular Giving Machines that let people donate items of need to nonprofits have returned to Water Tower Plaza in the Heritage District downtown.

“The Giving Machines are a memorable, simple yet touching way to participate in giving during the holiday season,” said Steve Lowder, who along with his wife, Fran, oversees the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Light the World Campaign in Gilbert.

“They allow us to drop not only finance to those organizations that need it, they allow us to drop cards in a machine whether it’s a sewing machine or 100 meals or whether it’s a soccer ball or a scholarship for an African girl.

“It’s so touching, so personable because it’s as if you’re taking that card, you’re taking that scholarship, you’re taking that ball and handing it directly to those individuals in those wonderful parts of the world that need it.

“This initiative focuses on light, on kindness, on joy, on service, on worship and on giving. It helps us to love as God loves us.”

Church leaders, elected Valley officials and nonprofit representatives attended a ribbon cutting Nov. 18 for the vending machines, where donations this year will go to:

 AZCEND – Provides help such as food boxes, rent and utility assistance and shelter.

 Midwest Food Bank – Collects food and distribute it to nonprofit community or government agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and schools.

 Gathering Humanity –Provides essential goods to Arizona immigrants and refugees. .

 House of Refuge – Provides transitional housing and support services for families experiencing homelessness.

 Special Olympics Arizona – Provides year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

 African Girls Hope Foundation – empowers, equip and educate underprivileged girls in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Donors use their credit cards to pick items in the Gilbert machines such as fresh produce, toys, books, school supplies and sports equipment for the charities they want to donate to.

As part of the Church’s annual campaign, people are asked to take the 25 days leading up to Christmas and turn it into a season of helping others in need.

Two machines placed next to the Town’s iconic water tower will take donations until Jan. 1. This year the Light the World Giving Machines are in 24 cities worldwide.

In 2018, Gilbert received two Giving Machines and one Water Machine that sold bottles of water with the proceeds going to a water charity. 

In 2019 two machines were in Gilbert and in 2020 there were no machines in Town or anywhere in the world due to the pandemic. And in 2021 the Church put four machines in Gilbert.

When the Church kicked off its campaign in 2017 it started with one Giving Machine in Salt Lake City, Utah, which raised over $550,000. The following year, the program expanded to other communities around the world, including Gilbert.

Since then, the Church has raised over $15 million for charities, according to Church spokeswoman Jennifer Wheeler.

“The charities featured in the Giving Machines are chosen by a statewide committee that works with nonprofits and that committee chose the charities from submitted applications,” Wheeler said in an email.

Over the years, the Gilbert machines have benefited A New Leaf, Helen’s Hope Chest, St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, Child Crisis Arizona, Catholic Charities Community Services Arizona and Catholic Charities Community Services of Arizona, according to Wheeler.

Asked if inflation will affect giving this year, Wheeler said it’s uncertain.

“We really have no way to determine what the impact of inflation will be on the giving in our community,” she said. “We do know that there is a tremendous amount of need out there and these local organizations will put the donations to good use in our communities.”

For the first time since the machines were introduced in Gilbert in 2018, there will be four additional locations in Arizona – Glendale, Flagstaff, Gila Valley and Tuscson. This year, 28 cites around the world are hosting the machines, Lowder said.

According to Lowder, for the first time the church is launching mobile Giving Machines, piloting them in Arizona.

Gilbert and Glendale will each have two stationary machines while two additional machines are being installed for two weeks each at Flagstaff, The Gila Valley and Tucson, Wheeler said.

“The two (mobile) machines that will move from location to location will be transported via a trailer,” she said. “Flagstaff, The Gila Valley and Tucson each have Giving Machines committees that set up the machines when they arrive and take them down to be transported to the next location.”

Also making its annual appearance is the Town’s Water Tower holiday lighting and concert, 6-8:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 28, at Water Tower Plaza, 45 W. Page Ave.

The mayor and council members will light the Gilbert Water Tower to kick off the holiday season.

This year’s event also includes free family activities, food trucks and live music by Ryan Ralston, who will perform family friendly holiday music.

Besides horse-drawn carriage rides, children can go down a gingerbread slide, run through a candy-land obstacle course and bounce inside a wrapped gift box.

Some tasty treats from vendors include holiday-themed hot coco, waffles, hamburgers and more for credit card payments or cash as no ATMs are on site.

After the lighting, visitors can enjoy

the festive colors on the tower each evening through Jan. 2 synchronized to holiday music played every half hour from 5:30-10 p.m.

For a cost, people can view Gilbert’s Riparian Preserve come alive with holiday lights, 5:30-9 p.m. Dec. 9-20, 2757 E. Guadalupe Road.

Thousands of holiday lights and displays will greet visitors as they stroll through the preserve.

Local food and drinks vendors will be on-site.

Advanced ticket costs are $2 per person through Dec. 8. From Dec. 9-20, the cost is $5 per person. Children 3 and younger are free.

For more information, go to gilbertaz.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/special-events-and-permits/riparian-after-dark. 

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