"What do you want, Val?" Santa Claus asked the little girl cuddled on his lap.

"Oh, that," she said, pointing to the brightly wrapped package in the arms of Santa's elf.Val didn't care too much what was in the package; she would enjoy it, whatever it was.

And that is how it went all morning Wednesday at the Dan W. Peterson School for severely handicapped children: simple delight and one tender moment after another as Santa met with and delivered a special gift to each of the school's 160 students.

For some of the students, the sound the wrapped gifts made when pounded like a drum was as pleasurable as any toy could be.

More than a few found Santa's finger as yummy as a Christmas treat.

And many of the students were more willing than most children to try pulling off Santa's beard, to give him a long hug, a kiss on the cheek and even a pat on his back.

Some were able to walk up to Santa on their own when their names were called; others had to be brought forward in wheelchairs, and many children had to be carried to him.

Santa knew just what to do with each child: The hands of children who could not see were gently placed on his beard and then his wristband of jingle bells; he gently guided - with a soft touch of hand against cheek - the faces of those who stared elsewhere; for some, there were no words, only a gentle squeeze.

"These kids are so caring. No matter what you give them, they are happy with it," Santa had said earlier.

Actually, a lot of planning and consideration went into Wednesday's visit from Santa Claus.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Utah employees for 14 years have been hosting a Christmas visit with Santa for students at the school, including four years when the school was in Sandy.

For many of the children, this is their only Christmas. While 65 percent live at home with their families, 35 percent live in nursing or group homes.

This year's committee, headed by Clyde Fowler, held fund-raisers throughout the year to raise money to buy gifts for the students.

Each student, with help from a teacher, listed his first- and second-choice gifts, and in most cases the committee was able to get the children what they asked for; this year, it took 14 shopping carts, several hours and help from 12 to 15 committee members to buy all the gifts.

"While a lot of the students are between 5 and 11 years old, their mental ages are much younger," Fowler said. "They like Fisher Price toys, Legos, and they really like stuffed animals that make sounds."

Most of the committee members were present Wednesday and helped many of the students open their gifts. There were rattles and Barbies, cars and stacking toys, headset tape players for the blind children and wind-up music boxes for some of the more severely handicapped.

The committee also provides several additional gifts for the students and the school. This year, there was a pair of mittens for each student, and five video movies and solar calculators for the school.

Cash also was given to the school, to buy something for the school or to be used on a special school outing. One year this donation was used to rent a bowling alley and take the students bowling.

Santa Claus was represented for the 10th year by Tom Scott, Sandy, who works in the computer department at Blue Cross. More than experience in the role has helped Scott know how to handle the students at the school: a daughter of his is severely handicapped.

"If you don't get in the Christmas spirit by the time you leave here," Scott said, "you probably don't have any Christmas spirit.

"The hardest time I had was in the second or third year. A little girl sat on my lap, and I asked what she wanted for Christmas," Scott said. "She said her mom was dying of cancer and she wanted Santa to make her better . . . kids have a lot of faith in Santa."