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While children awoke Christmas morning and rushed to see what Santa had left them under the tree, some Utahns skipped or delayed their holiday celebrations to play Santa for an entirely different reason.

On Friday, an interfaith group, led by members of Utah's Jewish and Muslim communities, gathered at West High School to wrap up what has become a yuletide tradition — a massive effort to deliver Christmas gifts and meals to some disadvantaged Utahns who have slipped under the radar of other charitable efforts. The group delivered presents to more than 1,000 people Christmas morning, including — thanks to a partnership with area schools — almost 500 refugees from Bhutan, Burma, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Iraq and other countries who are adapting to life in Utah.

The volunteers call their annual project Shalom Salaam – Tikkun Olam — "shalom" meaning "peace" in Hebrew, "salaam" meaning "peace" in Arabic, and "tikkun olam," Hebrew for "repairing the world."

Refugee students who attend area schools became an important part of the effort almost a decade ago, when a high school student who volunteered with the group approached Susana Anderson, a language and culture coach at West High, to ask if she knew any students whose families could benefit from some Christmas charity.

The schools have been involved ever since, Anderson said, and not just by suggesting families in need of aid. Students also help raise funds and decorate boxes to deliver the gifts — practical offerings such as blankets and warm clothing, and familiar foods like rice, oil and spices.

Unlike other programs, the presents Shalom Salaam – Tikkun Olam provides aren't meant to "give Christmas" to families — many of these families, after all, aren't Christian, and aren't likely to celebrate the holiday. Rather, Anderson said, the presents are seen more as welcoming gifts for people amid a difficult transition.

What many don't understand about refugees, Anderson said, is that for many families, this situation isn't necessarily a short-term crisis. Some camps have as many as 250,000 residents, she said, and families can end up staying there for years or even decades. In some countries, refugee families aren't allowed to fully integrate into their host country's society, and children, especially girls, are often deprived of any kind of education. Some children are born at the camps and may grow up there without attending school. West High instructors have taught 17-year-olds to use scissors for the first time, Anderson said.

"For some kids, they're amazing, and they adjust," she said. Others, especially those who have experienced the trauma of war or who may have special needs, struggle to cope.

For the volunteers, the project requires hours of preparation — including sacrificing Christmas Eve to organize the gifts in preparation for the Christmas morning delivery — but volunteer Bert Spiegel said the effort is worthwhile when you see the kids' smiles as they put on new winter coats.

Spiegel's wife, Lois, said the couple have turned delivering these gifts into an annual tradition. They're Jewish, she said, so they don't celebrate Christmas, but the charitable project has given them something to do with their time off — and, she said, they feel as though they are repairing the world, or at least some small part of it.

"You can write a check — which we need — but this is work," she said. "This is doing something."