OGDEN -- For 20 Ogden-area families, the efforts of the Ogden LDS Institute this year to gather up truckloads of crafts, housewares, gifts and toys means Christmas will be extraordinarily different from those in the past.
"I've had kids that have never had a Christmas," said Alan Mueller, principal at the Ben Lomond High School Seminary. "One is 17 years old."
Mueller said when his seminary counsel there started poking around, they found great needs.
And students at the Institute said they were more than willing to step up to the plate this year for students and families throughout the area.
Parents in the families designated for help were asked for advice on what to get their children and themselves.
"One lady wanted a can opener," Mueller said. "She said 'If I had a can opener, I'd be able to help feed my family.' "
He said in another family, the husband wanted a sweatshirt and a hoodie.
But those working to serve him didn't want to wait. They made sure he got it right away so he didn't have to be cold.
The five-week effort is called "Christmas Hands," which goes along with this year's Institute theme of "In His Hands."
"We are in his hands and we are his hands as well," said Lance Wight, who is activities co-chairman of the Institute Council. "We wanted to put Christ back into Christmas."
Wight said there are times when up to 200 students are working at once toward the effort.
There's a giving tree where students may adopt a child and purchase a gift up to $20 in value. They are decorating playhouses, weaving hats, making ornaments, completing crafts and tying quilts.
Mueller said he has especially enjoyed watching the male students at work.
"To watch them talk about sports while building a quilt is pretty cool," he said.
Wight said organizers have done their research, finding out what people like and need, in order to be of most help.
"We did a drive for silverware, cups and plates," Wight said. "Some don't have winter clothing and food and stuff like that. We have a different donation item each week."
The work area is located in the lounge area and gym. Students go by between classes, and sometimes Institute classes break from their studies and everyone in the class works.
Wight said he's seen up to 200 students working at a time.
The Institute also has involved Weber State University art students to create original paintings for the project that are being copied and framed for the families.
"We want to create warmth and depth to the houses as well that will last a little longer," Wight said.
And organizers thought that families in need probably don't often get a night out, so they also have collected gift cards for things like movies and restaurants.
Management at an area Best Western hotel and dentists in the area have donated items for hygiene kits.
Students also have completed drawings for special coloring books made especially for this project.
"There's a lot of projects," Wight said. "It's a really awesome, cool environment."
Alan Barlow, an Institute counsel advisor, said it's the first year the Institute has done service projects on such a grand scale.
"We thought 'Why not take over-programmed and overstressed students and add more to their plate'aU" Barlow said, joking. "By taking time out for others, they are putting their own problems into perspective."
He said the project gives students the chance to learn that there are those for whom a hot pad is a great gift.
"They also get to let their creative side go a little bit," he said.
But most of all, he said, they learn about loving one another.
"Along the way, they learn that they are in his hands personally and they get to feel his love as they reach out to others with their hands."