The first thing a child sees upon entering Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City are a couple of brightly lit trees with presents stacked underneath.
Next are the lights and wreaths and bows that adorn the hospital walls. And that's just the beginning. During the holidays, staff and volunteers at Shriners say they do their best to plan activities and create an atmosphere where sick children can celebrate and enjoy the season while away from home.
This past week, a few patients made gingerbread houses. Other planned activities included making picture frames. And today, Santa is expected to visit the children at Shriners.
"Everything here is focused on the children and making them feel comfortable and happy," said Michael Babcock, director of public relations for Shriners in Salt Lake City. "During the holidays, we do everything we can to make this place as inviting and warm and home-like as possible."
The hospital specializes in orthopedic disorders and diseases. As many as 40 children can be admitted at one time for in-patient care while an additional 100-plus children are treated each week as outpatients.
All of the care is free. There are 22 other Shriners hospitals across the country that treat children for orthopedic conditions, burns and spinal cord injuries and cleft lips and palates. The hospital system was founded in 1922.
The Salt Lake City-based Shriners has been running since 1925. It serves seven Western states and two states in Mexico and is funded through donations and an endowment fund.
For Babcock, Shriners is a great story of hope, love and giving.
"What sometimes gets lost is that we're probably giving these children the greatest gift of all," he said. "It's not a remote-controlled car or toys or clothes, but the gift of hope and healing."
For more information about Shriners hospitals, log on to shrinershospitals.org or call 801-536-3500. Patients are accepted regardless of insurance or income level, according to Babcock. The Salt Lake City hospital is accepting new patients.