WESTMINSTER — Santa's just gotten 1,800 more elves to help him at Christmas this year.
The new recruits -- students at East and West Middle schools -- enlisted after Mayor W. Benjamin Brown told them about the children who lost their parents in the Imperial chicken processing plant fire in Hamlet, N.C., Sept. 3.
Brown encouraged students this week to be part of the city's Hands for Hamlet project, which will send presents and other supplies to the young people.
"All of you know who Santa Claus is," he said. "You all know that it is parents, grandparents and caring adults. There aren't parents for these 17 children, so I'm asking all of you to help Santa Claus get to Hamlet."
Brown said he was asking the students to help because, unlike adults, they know what the children wouldlike to receive.
"I've concluded in my own mind that if I was to order city employees to do the job, they couldn't do near as good a job as you will," he said. "You're closer to their age and know what's'rad' and 'hip.'
"If I was to pick a present for a little girl, Imight choose a gray skirt with a pink poodle on it, like was popularwhen I was young," he said, amid a burst of giggles from the students.
Each of West Middle's 10 academic teams have decided to adopt achild as their brother or sister for the holidays, while East Middlestudents are supporting their six children as a group.
The remaining child affected by the tragedy has since moved away from Hamlet, said Mary Ann Kelly, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
"We're really enthused about this program," said Virginia Ashmore, assistant principalat East Middle. "It's important that kids learn how to share. If they don't do it now, they won't do it as adults."
Students at East Middle say helping others will make their own Christmas more special.
"I've seen boxer shorts that say 'It's not the giving, it's the getting,' but that's not true," said Sarah Kacmarski, 11.
"I know it's going to help some other kids have a nice Christmas," added 11-year-old Nicki Davidson. " Christmas isn't Christmas without family."
Donations of money, clothes and toys can be sent to Hands for Hamlet, c/o Westminster City Hall, Westminster, Md. 21157.