The Christmas spirit is alive and well in Utah County. From one end of the valley to the other, people are demonstrating that the holiday means more than hanging glittery objects on fir trees and on homes, and trying to spend up a storm on their families.
These are people who realize that at the heart of Christmas is Christ and his example of service to others. They do what they do not for the recognition but for the warm "fuzzy" feeling they get knowing they've made someone smile with pleasure and with joyful recognition that someone, a Santa, has thought and cared about them, even if momentarily.Warm feelings can be contagious, and the kind acts of one person serve as an example to others; how good it is to know such people as Grant White share this valley as a home.
White served as Spanish Fork police chief for 18 years. Upon retirement, he moved to Provo, and you could say, began baking cookies - up to 2,000 every Christmas to give to those less fortunate than himself.
"Ever since I was a little girl I can remember my grandfather making cookies to take up to the forgotten patients at the Utah State Hospital (in Provo)," said White's granddaughter, Karen Thorn, an aide in the Provo office of Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah. "I can always remember him taking stuff up, saying it was for the forgotten patients, and that he didn't want to be forgotten some day."
Meticulous care went into White's cookies: They had faces or toppings of gumdrops or candy chews. He spent hours experimenting with cookie recipes; it became a sort of hobby.
"He grew up in an era when times were hard and a cookie was a wonderful treat," Thorn said. "Ingredients were scarce, and the cookies had to be baked in a coal stove . . . you had to keep stoking the coals the whole time. Making cookies was a big deal, and eating them was an extra big deal."
The memories of his childhood and of the significance of a cookie, something that today is hardly considered remarkable, remained with White throughout his life.
He began baking cookies for patients at the State Hospital after reading an article in a local paper asking for Christmas donations for the forgotten patient program.
White baked cookies for 10 years; five years ago a debilitating stroke left him paralyzed from the neck down. The cookie baking is a thing of the past, but compassion for the forgotten patients is not: White still donates money to the program to provide Christmas for five patients every year.
"He has great compassion for people who are forgotten," Thorn said. "I think he does it because of that compassion and the feeling he gets himself."
Thorn shares that compassion. She has joined with other staff members in Garn's Provo office and staff members in the offices of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, in participating in the forgotten patient program.
For the past four years, these staff members have provided Christmas for a forgotten patient; this year, they have been given the name of a 48-year-old woman. Her list of desired items is simple - gloves, a hat, jewelry, a purse, makeup, a sweater and candy.
"I feel bad that my family is here and so close, but these patients are lost (many are transients) or forgotten," said Emily Wiscombe, a staff member in Nielson's office. "It is the least we can do to brighten their Christmas, to share the Christmas spirit with those who might not get it otherwise."
And, Wiscombe said, the staff benefits also.
"It (participating in the program) brings the Christmas spirit into the office, and I think it helps bring us closer together," Wiscombe said.
Laverne Cunningham, like White, has long been a friend of the patients at the State Hospital. For 15 years, Cunningham, who is a secretary in the Fire Science Program at Utah Valley Community College, has provided Christmas for as many as three patients a year at the hospital. And there are always a few extra gifts in case help didn't come through for other patients.
"I have such a feeling of sympathy for these people," Cunningham said. "I like to do volunteer work, but I can't go up there. At least I can do this."
Cunningham has a heart condition; she tried being a volunteer at the hospital but found herself coming home in tears after visits. The stress was too great for her physical condition, she says.
"There are so many people up there who are ignored," Cunningham said. "They never ask for anything frivolous. I just wish I could do more."
It is more than enough, as Mike, a 27-year-old patient at the State Hospital, says. He has been in the hospital several years, and visits from family and friends are virtually nonexistent.
"Being locked up and all, it gives pleasure to know someone is thinking of you and that there is still love out there," Mike said. "The fruit and treats are a real enjoyment, we really crave for it. Sometimes it disappears in one day. On the outside, I haven't received something that special before. I thought I would never see the day when there would be a present in front of me (on Christmas)."