ogie Reynolds believes “guilt by association” landed her the executive director role at Subs for Santa in Teton Valley, but I call it “dharma.” You see, according to Buddhist belief, dharma is the ability to carry out that which you were put on this earth to do (or that which aligns with the principles that govern the universe).
If providing twenty-eight years of Christmas gifts and food to local families in need hasn’t put Gogie on a path to enlightenment, it at least deems her a saint in the eyes of the recipients. Today, Subs for Santa goes well beyond Saint Nick’s Christmastime duties, by taking care of year-round needs for families facing hard times.
“I knew all the poor people in town,” says Gogie, about her former serendipitous role as manager of the See N’ Save Thrift Store in Driggs. Families would come into the store to express their needs to Reynolds and, following in the footsteps of her grandmother, she would rally donations to help. Then, in 1989, Teton Valley resident Jan Hall started Subs for Santa. Reynolds was perfectly poised to be her right-hand woman.
What started out as a two-person gig (Hall and Reynolds) has blossomed into an organized nonprofit, complete with six board members and roughly three hundred volunteers. Their biggest giving event culminates with a Christmas party at the LDS church in Driggs for families needing help during the holidays. At this chili feast, families and volunteers gather among an outpouring of food, goodie bags, treats, and a table of gifts for the children. Santa Claus divvies out the presents and each family leaves with a bag full of requested items contributed by a sponsor, potatoes donated by the Teton Seed Potato Marketing Association, full bellies, and ear-to-ear smiles. The event is as much a celebration of community and family as it is a charity.
“I’ve never lived in a better community than Teton Valley,” says Gogie, now a Fremont County resident. “I’ve never known a group of people to be so forgiving and giving. Everybody looks out for each other.”
For those who can’t make the party, Subs for Santa has a dedicated runner. “Sometimes there’s a pride factor with people in crisis,” Gogie explains. “But if they turn down my help, I still try to make sure they get what they need.” That’s where the runner comes in: As an anonymous volunteer, the runner leaves a bag of gifts on the family’s front step, rings the doorbell, and then “runs like hell.”
So, how does Subs for Santa work?
One can always call Reynolds between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with a family need (her number is listed in the newspaper). But to officially apply for the Subs for Santa program, the head of the household needs to fill out an application that includes the number of children in the family and proof that the family resides in Teton County, Idaho. Applications are available during the holidays through the Subs for Santa store at 30 East Wallace Street in Driggs. Once accepted, families submit a list of essential items they need for their kids. A sponsor signs up to adopt the family and fill their requests.
Gogie explains that it’s the organization’s duty to keep everyone on the up and up. “We are not here to give handouts; we’re here to give a helping hand,” she says.
And it doesn’t stop there. Subs for Santa also provides opportunities for people to adopt a child for back-to-school, an idea given to Gogie by her granddaughter. On the first day of school one fall, her granddaughter (who was 14 at the time) encountered a girl crying in the bathroom because other girls were teasing her for wearing hand-me-downs. In colorful language, her spitfire granddaughter told the girl the mean words weren’t worth her worry. (Gogie chuckles as she recounts the story.) Today, kids in need can wear a new outfit on their first day of school—donated by a sponsor through this pet project—so that they feel equal to their peers.
Throughout the years, Gogie’s volunteer efforts have sparked success stories. “I remember one of the first families I worked with,” she says. “I went into their shabby house and opened the fridge to find only a wilted piece of lettuce.” She spent eighty dollars on groceries and returned to the house with the offering. “The seven-year-old little boy grabbed the gallon of milk I bought and kissed it,” she recounts, regarding this validation of her efforts. Today, the family owns their house and has become self-sufficient. “I’m so glad I do what I do,” Gogie says.
It would be easy for Gogie to take herself off grid, since her Lamont property is accessible in winter only by a five-mile snowmobile trip. However, this dedicated thirty-three-year area resident hasn’t strayed one bit from her commitment to Teton County. Guilt by association? Call it what you want. But it takes a special individual to make the twenty-six mile trip into Driggs, many times each winter, to help families who are now only distant neighbors. Old Saint Nick would be proud.