It was an unusual party for the families staying at the Salt Lake homeless shelter Thursday night. An indoor barbecue, small gifts, a clown and magician and certificates to buy shoes for the children were among the highlights.

The law firm of Campbell, Maack and Sessions generally celebrates the year with an in-house company picnic.This year, they decided to do something different.

"Our law firm had discovered that various law firms around the country were donating time in various forms to the homeless. We decided it would be better than a company picnic," said Robert S. Campbell Jr., president of the firm.

"There is a new dimension in the difficulties the homeless are facing that I've never seen before. I've seen people trying to get into a building just to get warm. Professionals and the business community must confront the problems by taking time to help the homeless and those facing extraordinary difficulties - not just by sending a check. If we don't, the government will and that will cost taxpayers more.

"A society as elegant and affluent as ours can't afford to have people destitute and desperate on the street."

Campbell and others from his firm hope "this small step" will be a challenge to law firms, doctors' offices, accounting practices and others to get involved and do something to fill human needs.

"If a firm as relatively average in size as we are is able to do this, what about some of the others? Think of the good we can do with a relatively small amount of people if every law firm, doctors, major accounting firms, engineers, whoever . . . we could make a major crack in problems. It's an element of caring that nothing short of a physical presence can provide. It says we care more than just sending a check."

Campbell said the idea wasn't his; he'd heard of other law firms doing similar things in other parts of the country. But it appealed to him because of the hands-on approach. While government service is costly, individual action can make incredible chinks in the needs of people who are homeless.

Stacy Bess, director of the shelter school, said some of the needs at the school are basic. Money is needed for a full-time teacher's salary, a camera and slide projector, new desks, units of study and volunteers who can share their areas of specialization with these disadvantaged children.