While Christmas has a variety of meanings for many people - including deep religious significance - it is most of all a time for children. There is no other experience quite like the excitement, the anticipation, the sharing, the happy faces, the love that is felt at Christmas.

Yet for many poor families, the holiday season may be a time of dread, of disappointment, of crushed hopes. In these families, the lack of money - even for necessities - can cause Christmas to be bleak. How does one explain to a disappointed child that Santa did not come this year?Each year, the Deseret News sponsors the Santa's Helping Hand program for poor families who cannot provide Christmas for their children. Under this person-to-person program, the newspaper arranges for generous volunteers to adopt a family for Christmas.

Donors are put in touch with a family to discuss the needs and wishes of the family. The names of families are referred by social workers with the Community Action Program. Individuals, families, church and civic groups, fraternities and sororities, and private companies have undertaken to provide Christmas for one or more needy families.

This year, there are still some 350 families with anywhere from two to nine children who have not been matched with needed volunteers. Don't let their Christmas be an empty one. Take a family and provide toys, clothing, food and other Christmas joys.

To help a family, call the Deseret News at 237-2129 during business hours Monday through Friday, or leave a message on the answering machine after hours and on weekends. Someone will get back to you.

In reaching out to help a needy family for Christmas, something wonderful happens. Not only does the spirit of giving light up the lives of those being helped, but it does the same for the givers.

While there are families who need to be helped at Christmas, there are many more who are badly in need of giving. For it is in giving that our own lives are enriched, and love only grows when it is shared.