Bestselling author Richard Paul Evans was writing copy for an advertising firm when he decided to run for the Utah Legislature more than 26 years ago.
“I lost by 100 votes,” he said with a smile. “I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands and started writing a book.”
Evans said he wrote his first novel thinking he might give a copy to about 20 relatives and friends, but the heartwarming and hopeful “The Christmas Box” was an incredible success, making Evans a millionaire before his 30th birthday. There was, as one might expect, a period of adjustment.
“When ‘The Christmas Box’ took off, they paid me $4 million,” he said with a mile-wide smile during an interview Sept. 21.
Evans didn’t know what to do with his newfound fortune. “My first check was for $2 million,” he said. “I’m holding and staring at this check for $2 million so what do I do? I went to the bank and tried to cash it. It freaked them out.”
It didn’t take long for Evans and his wife, Keri, to figure out what to do with their money. Concerned over what sudden wealth might do to their children – they raised four daughters and a son – they decided to help other kids.
Evans, 55, founded the first Christmas Box House in 1996, defined as a “safe place for Utah’s children.” That gave birth to Christmas Box House International. Like the name implies, the organization has established temporary shelters for children in need from across the globe.
“Since we’ve started we’ve helped more than 100,000 children,” said Evans. Help that comes in many ways: shelter, clothing, food, and education. “The concept came because of our shelters in Salt Lake and Ogden. They’re always both full and we wanted a place for children to land that would be soft, instead of just throwing them into foster care.”
Evans, in Moab for a meet and greet at an open house to mark the 20th anniversary of the Christmas Box House here, said virtually every agency in Utah that deals with children came together and collaborated to make the shelters a reality.
Evans has had a spectacular career as a novelist, with more than 35 books – featuring a variety of genres – landing on the New York Times’ bestseller list. His next, “Noel Stranger,” goes on sale Nov. 6. Also, he has had six Hallmark Channel movies made from his books: “The Christmas Box,” 1995; “Timepiece,” 1996; “The Locket,” 2002; “A Perfect Day,” 2006; “The Mistletoe Promise,” 2016; and “The Mistletoe Inn,” 2017.
For all of his success, Evans remains humble and devoted to children in crisis.
According to Director Sherilyn Sowell, the Christmas Box House is a place for foster children to live while awaiting placement with a family. There is a bright nursery, well-kept bedrooms with bunk beds for older children, and colorful bedrooms with Mickey and Minnie Mouse themes for those who are younger.
It is, as Evans envisioned, a place for children facing a hard situation to find a soft landing.