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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Jaycie Minor, 5, and Chelsie Minor, 13, sort books for Angel Tree. Sisters Mikaela and Alyssa work in rear.

As Thanksgiving approaches, many Utah families are showing thanks in the form of service.

National Family Volunteer Day takes place each year the Saturday before Thanksgiving, with the purpose of showcasing the benefits of meaningful service as a family.

This year, United Way of Utah County planned several projects throughout the county for families and community members to participate in.

"There aren't a lot of organized opportunities for families to serve together. This is a day where everyone in your family, whatever the age, can get involved and feel the joy of making a difference in the community while having fun and meeting new friends," said Lisa Hammon, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer.

More than 128 volunteers, comprised of families, youth groups and community members arrived at Spring Creek Elementary School in Provo, despite the rain and wind, to separate into groups and travel to different locations to provide services.

Groups performed services in 12 different locations, including the Friends in Need animal sanctuary in Eagle Mountain, Migrant Head Start in Genola and various places within the Provo School District, Habitat for Humanity, Angel Tree, Various assisted living establishments and more.

The services range from setting up decorations, doing arts and crafts with assisted living residents, raking leaves, painting and chatting and playing bingo with the elderly.

Julie Gatica, her husband and their three sons volunteered at the Orchard Park Care Center in Orem. The Gaticas had often spent time in nursing homes, where Julie would play the piano and her husband would sing. Because their families live in Peru and California and they will not be spending the holidays with them, the Gaticas searched online to find a local service project to participate in, and found the Family Volunteer Day projects.

"We wanted to do something to serve and make the holidays more memorable," Julie said. "It's a good opportunity for the kids."

Youth groups also participated as part of their weekly service project. Their leaders and mentors hoped the youths would have experiences that would allow them to see outside themselves and give to others. Leaders also hoped that the youths would learn love, trust, respect and how to build relationships with those in their communities.

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"It's wonderful to see the families and show them other needs in the community," said Hammon. Volunteer days allow members of the community to participate and learn about different services in the community that they might not know are needed, she said.

While many of the children arrive excited to help, Hammons likes to see some of the older kids, who some times arrive grumpy, get excited and eager as they begin the service projects.

"We hope that on Family Volunteer Day, participants will not only have the opportunity to do service together, but to also become more aware of the needs in their communities," Hammon said.

e-mail: hloftus@desnews.com