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Many attending a Christmas party given Wednesday by the Cottonwood-Murray Elks Lodge No. 2344 were in wheelchairs. Many are mentally retarded, have cerebral palsy and can't speak.

But it was evident they were having a good time. They were communicating with their eyes, with hugs, handclasps - and speaking from their hearts."I love being here. I wouldn't trade this day for anything," said Santa Claus as he handed out gifts to 100 people from the Work Activity Center for Handicapped Adults.

"When they walk in or are helped into the building, their faces light up. Regardless of what you do for them, they appreciate it. They are a great bunch of people. They are beautiful. I call them my kids," declared Edith Shaddick, a Lady Elks member who was among those scurrying about the lodge making sure everyone was having fun and getting enough to eat.

Before Santa's arrival the guests enjoyed a meal of sliced turkey, macaroni salad, rolls and butter, cranberry sauce and raspberry and lime jello with whipped cream.

"The Elks do a lot for kids - not only at Christmas but at Halloween and other times of the year," said Ethel Herrera as she assisted her son, Michael, who was born with birth defects, up to greet Santa.

Nancy Strader, Karen Callahan and Bo Colozzi, who were among Work Activity Center staff members accompanying the group on Utah Transit Authority flextran buses, said the handicapped look forward to the party each year.

"This is a greatly appreciated Elks' treat," said Callahan, who joined in visiting with Santa and dancing with the handicapped. Even many of those in wheelchairs moved their arms, hands or legs to the music.

Paul S. Jennings, leading knight of the Elks lodge, said the Elks love to sponsor the party. It's fun to become better acquainted with the handicapped. They "remember people and show it in nice ways," he said.

Other Elks greeting or assisting at the party were Jay Roundy, exalted ruler; Greg Buchanan, the lodge's lecturing knight who took pictures of the handicapped; Marty Smart, loyal knight; and Lynne Whitt, president of the Lady Elks.

Ed Bass, a lodge member who coordinated transportation, commended the work of Teresa Tapia and other UTA drivers for the way they sensitively meet the needs of those attending the party.