Dec. 25 is just another cold, dark day to thousands of people who spend the day in nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters and prisons. In Utah, 2,000 smiles will result from visits of hundreds of volunteers who are members of the Holiday Project. Organized in 1971, the project can be found in 400 communities across the United States.
The Holiday Project gives volunteers the opportunity to donate gifts or time in delivering them. Gifts are collected and wrapped during a mass wrapping party.Pat Brewer, chairman for the Utah Holiday Project, said, "The level of support from local churches has been incredible. We've had our events at St. Mark's Church this year. A group of Young Women from the Canyon Rim (LDS) Stake read about the Holiday Project in the Community Action Center's `Wish Book.' They held a camp-a-thon, with the admission being a pair of socks. The girls made lace pot pourri sachets and reindeer ornaments with a candy kiss inside. They also made quilts for the New Hope Multicultural Center." Added Brewer, "It's pretty wonderful when someone calls you and says, `I've got hundreds of gifts for you.' "
The Eta Sigma Gamma Health Education Honor Society is helping the Holiday Project as is the Bennion Center at the University of Utah. But the cast of volunteers changes from year to year. "The thing that distinguishes this project is that we never know who the players are," Brewer remarked. Some people will come and help wrap presents for two hours. Others will then venture out for a visit on Christmas Day. "The nice thing about the Bennion Center being involved is that it helps the students try volunteering at whatever level they are comfortable with," Brewer said.
One volunteer visited the homeless shelter one year, then spent the rest of the following year helping to raise money for the shelter. Irene Link made a prison visit and decided to go back and teach a class on communication skills to the prisoners.
A very special part of the Holiday Project is a homemade Christmas card delivered with the gifts on Christmas Day. One dozen elementary schools around the Salt Lake Valley make cards. Thousands of children are involved in making the cards, said Brewer. "Children have a way of having the right thing to say. One youngster wrote to a prisoner, `I don't know what you did to get locked up, but don't do it again!' " laughed Brewer.
"Sometimes you're nervous on the visits and don't know exactly what to say, but you ask them about their families and the conversation just takes off. It's a real simple thing, just a visit, but you're holding out a little bit of life. We're bringing them hope," she said.
- Volunteers from the Holiday Project will visit the Utah State Prison on Saturday, Dec. 22. The Christmas Day visits to nursing homes and hospitals will begin at 1 p.m. at St. Mark's Parish Hall. Call the Holiday Project at 328-5892 for information about these visits.