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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Suzanne Shippen helps decorate tree and attach cards. "People of meager circumstances can come to the tree and find something to do," she said.

ALPINE — The Shippens in Alpine wanted to do a different type of family Christmas service project this year.

So they cut a cave into the 40-foot-high blue spruce in their front yard. They then decorated the entire tree with 2-foot-diameter red Styrofoam balls and hung 10,000 white lights around the bottom 10 feet of the tree.

To the branches they attached little cards detailing either potential gift ideas or service projects for local people in need.

"We wanted to inspire people to give," said Steve Shippen, 43.

Neighbors have been coming to the tree to get giving ideas from the cards. They then call the Shippens to get instructions on the service project or they drop off wrapped presents for the Shippens to deliver, which will happen today.

"People of meager circumstances can come to the tree and find something to do. Everyone has something to give. They can just donate their time," said Suzanne Shippen, 46.

Some of the service projects include calling an elderly shut-in, offering tutoring services or fixing the front steps of a family's home.

The Shippens' tree project is replicated after the book "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein. The story is about a boy who befriends a tree that gives him shelter, apples to eat and other things he needs.

The cards on the Shippens' tree have "Giving Tree" type artwork created by one of the Shippens' four children, Rebecca, 10.

The Shippens attached 85 cards to their tree. They are red, white or green and are the size of index cards. The tree's cards are wrapped in cellophane and tied to the branches with red or white wrapping ribbon.

The cards are going fast. The Shippens are trying to attach more. People can also suggest service projects.

"I think it's wonderful," says neighbor Janine Bench, 45. "It caught our eye when we were driving up the street."

Bench and her family decided to visit the tree. A 175-foot path has been made in the snow from the road to the tree. There is a sign to give visitors directions.

"It's a magical feeling to walk up the path toward the tree," Bench says. Her family took a card off the tree. They put together a gift basket and then dropped it off at the Shippens' home.

Neighbor Shelly Butterfield, 46, said, "We love the tree. It's darling. It's as cute as can be."

Butterfield said her 12-year-old daughter and her friend visited the tree and got a card. "It's a great idea," she said.

The Shippens live at 1294 N. Grove Drive, Alpine. For information, call the Shippens at 756-0244.

E-mail: astewart@desnews.com