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Every year, 2 million Americans spend the holidays confined to hospitals, nursing homes or other institutions. The Holiday Project, organized in 1971, is a nationwide organization staffed by volunteers that make Christmas and Hanukkah visits to people who might otherwise be separated from family and friends.

Now organized in 400 communities in the United States, the Holiday Project will reach over 2,000 Utahns in visits that will take place this weekend at 20 nursing homes, hospitals, the prison and homeless shelter.Pat Brewer is chairperson of the Utah Holiday Project and says, "The Holiday Project is about people being with people." Whether donating gifts or time, volunteers become the gift.

Volunteers were encouraged to bring presents such as new, warm socks; wrapping paper or food to a wrapping party at the Salt Lake City-County Building Dec. 14. "Nordstrom was very generous in responding on short notice with gifts and Salt Lake City hosted the party with donated space and custodial service," Brewer said. "Thousands of gifts were brought in cartons and sacks, and we had so much wrapping paper left over, we gave it to St. Vincent DePaul's for the gifts they are giving out with meals."

Kay Bunnell has been a fund-raiser for the Holiday Project and this year has focused on soliciting gifts. The project has been so successful that people can simply show up on Monday, Christmas Day, at St. Mark's Parish Hall, 231 E. 100 South to pick up gifts and go out on visits in teams.

Chris McGillis has organized Hanukkah gifts and visits. A group of children from the Jewish Community Center will be visiting Russian emigre families. For information about Hanukkah visits, call the Jewish Community Center at 581-0098.

The Christmas Homebound Project will again be taking meals to shut-ins, and the Homebound volunteers will be joining the Holiday Project volunteers for a potluck party at St. Mark's Parish after the visits.

Pat Brewer remembers last Christmas, when a blizzard hit Salt Lake City. "In spite of snow and sleet, we still made 1,600 visits on Christmas Day. There were 30 of us singing carols and distributing gifts at the men's shelter," she said. "People should consider themselves invited and just show up at St. Mark's at 1 p.m. on Christmas Day. The gifts are waiting to be picked up, team leaders are ready to go, we'll just match up people with facilities and fill car pools," she said. Volunteers are encouraged to bring a potluck treat with them at 1 p.m. and when the visits are completed, a party will be awaiting them at St. Mark's. "The visits are so moving that you just need the time to share with others the experiences you've had," Brewer said.

Volunteers will be making visits in Ogden and the Provo-Orem area as well. Volunteers from Sandy and Bountiful may meet in their own areas before going on the visits. "Join us and give yourself permission to do something out of the ordinary," Brewer says. For more information about the Holiday Project, call 328-5892.