It had all the trappings of the standard Christmas party: Santa Claus, holiday carols pounded out on a piano, decorations, goodies and gifts. The kids walked around with plates heaped with pizza, cookies and chips.
They swung at a snowman-shaped pinata, bringing down a shower of candy that set off a scramble from the surrounding ring of delighted children.It looked like just another holiday bash for kids. But for the youngsters attending, it was the highlight of their year.
About 30 children from Salt Lake County's youth shelter attended the annual party sponsored by the Future Business Leaders of America Club of Olympus High School on Saturday. Some of the children have been removed from their homes because they've been abused or neglected by their parents.
"It's very special to them. To some kids, a Christmas party is just another Christmas party," said Kris Keller, a counselor at the shelter.
"To these kids, this may be the biggest thing to happen to them. This may be the first time they've ever sat on Santa's lap or been to a party or gotten gifts," said Keller.
The children aren't the only ones who benefit from the annual party, sponsored for the fourth year by the Future Business Leaders of America along with the high school's Spanish Club and members of Distribution Education Clubs of America, another business-oriented student group.
"To us, the students, it's a big thing," said Future Business Leaders service chairman Cory Booth. "We like to give them a Christmas. We like them to feel they're special."
The party featured entertainment, videos, a table full of pizza, cookies and punch, and - of course - Santa Claus.
Santa made sure he talked to each child individually, then gave each a coloring book, crayons and candy cane, all purchased by the students with money earned in fund-raising activities.
And each child attending had a club member to spend the day with them, like a big brother or big sister.
Club faculty adviser Susan Chadwick said the club annually plans gifts, food and entertainment for 100 children, expecting that around 75 will actually attend.
The extra gifts and goodies are sent along to the shelter to give to children that are brought in between the party and Christmas, to ensure they, too, will have presents.
"Last year, we raised money and sent over enough gifts that kids coming into the shelter after Christmas were still able to get something," said Chadwick.