When Christmas morning dawns and children begin peeking under the tree to discover the bounty left by Santa Claus, 187 Utah children will be disappointed unless Santa gets a "Helping Hand."

Several programs exist to bring Christmas cheer to low-income households, but this year the need appears to be greater than usual. With only a few days left until Christmas, hundreds of families have been adopted, but 64 have not been matched in the Deseret News' Santa's Helping Hand program.The newspaper is no longer accepting applications from those that need help, but is still encouraging families, groups and individuals to sponsor Christmas for needy children.

"We need to provide an adequate Christmas," said Keith West, Deseret News promotion director, "but not a lavish one," since some of the families may not be adopted the following Christmas or, if adopted, may not receive as much. "We don't want to set them up to be disappointed."

The program is for children between ages 3 and 14, although families that have other children who are older or younger are also included. Families that did not qualify for Santa's Helping Hand already have been referred to other agencies.

"I have adopted a family for the past three years," said one newspaper staffer, "and I love it. Each family's unique, and I have gotten something from each of them. The first year, I adopted two of the cutest little girls I've ever seen and it was wonderful to see the joy and love on the mother's face when I arrived with gifts. She really look relieved.

"This year, the family's completely different. The mother is very young and already seems to be completely defeated, which is sad. When I took out a Christmas tree, I found that she lives with her little boy and girl in a garage that has been converted into a tiny apartment. I love being able to help out during a time of year that is very important to me. I've been lucky and I know it. This is just a way of giving something back.

"I think it would be tragic if someone had to explain to their children that `Yes, you've been good, but you're poor, so Santa didn't come.' "

Personal contact is one of the most popular features of the Deseret News program. Sponsors talk directly to the parent to discover what the children need and then they deliver the gifts personally.

Anyone interested in bringing Christmas to a low-income family should call 237-2139 on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Calls also can be made at the same number during the week, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.