Spending Christmas in a strange city with a sick child or spouse may seem like a joyless proposition, but the staff and the temporary residents at the Ronald McDonald House are still keeping the spirit of the holidays.

Built by volunteers, the residence at 935 E. South Temple provides low-cost rooms for the families of children being treated or hospitalized at local medical centers, said Karen Huber, manager for the house. Primary Children's Medical Center, Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children and the University Hospital draw patients from all over the country, and many families cannot afford to stay in hotels or motels.The season got off to a good start with donated outdoor Christmas decorations from Crossland Health Care, cookies baked by the wives of the Salt Lake Eagles Hockey team and horse and carriage rides Tuesday night.

But Huber said there is a long list of other items for generous donors to give.

"Some of the people just fly in and don't have anything," she said. Sample-size packets of toothpaste, shampoo and personal items are always needed for families, Huber said, adding that many of the families who stay at the house are in Salt Lake City because they are parents of premature babies and didn't have time to pack a bag.

The house averages between 12 and 16 people each week, and Huber expects many to stay through December. "We have a little boy whose father is donating him a kidney, so they're both here," she said. While the average stay is two to three days, she said, some medical treatments last much longer.

For children receiving treatment as out-patients, the house needs cribs, playpens, and toddler-size pajamas, she said.

A Christmas Day dinner is being planned, said Huber, but the menu depends on the donations.

"We'd really like for some major grocery chain to donate, say, $30 a month for staples," she said. Passing the time between hospital visits is sometimes difficult for families, and the donation of a television, a VCR, and some "family-type" movies would help.

The house also allows families and spouses of adult patients to stay if there is room.

Bud and Margot Jandt will be two of the house's residents through Christmas. Steered to the house by a social worker at the Veteran's Administration Medical Center in early November, they will stay until early January for Mr. Jandt's radiation and dialysis treatments.

"I've never been treated better by strangers," said his wife. "We couldn't have asked for anything better." She said she could not have afforded to stay in a motel for the entire time, and would have had to return home if the house were not available.

"The people here are wonderful, I sometimes think I trained them myself," Mr. Jandt joked.

Home for the Jandts is in North Dakota, but they are enjoying Salt Lake City.

"When my husband feels good enough we like to do something," said Mrs. Jandt. So far they have visited Park City, the Salt Lake International Airport and Temple Square. "I'm real impressed with the city."

Huber is also hoping someone will donate a camera and some scrapbooks so they can start keeping a record of people like the Jandts and others who stay at the house.

Anyone wanting to donate time, money or goods should call the house at 363-HOME.