Santa's workshop was never like this.
Imagine a dozen elves gift-wrapping exactly the presents children asked for and including the batteries.
That was the scene Tuesday as students prepared for the third annual Christmas party sponsored by Havre de Grace High School's SMILES program, which places student volunteers in the community.
SMILES -- Service Makes Individual Lives Extra Special -- welcomed 30 children to the school Saturday for a holiday meal and a chance to choose presents for family members and themselves.
The party is organized jointly by SMILES and the Salvation Army to help those who might otherwise miss out on celebrating the season.
"The kids tell us what they wanted and we tried to get them what they asked for," SMILES faculty adviser Don Osman said.
That's quite a departure from the disappointment that often follows a child's visit to a shopping mall Santa, whose job usually begins and ends with dispensing candy canes.
But the SMILES Santa Claus -- this year Don Bowlen, a 1977 Havre de Grace graduate -- comes prepared with a stack of 3-by-5 cards noting each child's Christmas wish.
"When we get into the room with Santa Claus, they're surprised by the presents," said Doug Testerman, a Havre de Grace junior who also helped with last year's party.
The Salvation Army is only one of dozens of social service and non-profit organizations in the Route 40 corridor that rely on help year-round from three county high school volunteer organizations -- SMILES, the Edgewood Rams and Aberdeen Time Out to Serve (TOTS).
For SMILES, thisis its busiest season, beginning with a
Thanksgiving dinner that feeds more than 300 people at the school and in homes.
Volunteers from the three schools also assist local museums, the federal surplusfood program, the Special Olympics and the Telephone Assurance Program, whose volunteers call seniors to make sure they are OK.
TOTS sponsors its own Christmas dinner and students help sell Christmas trees for the Aberdeen Lions Club in the parking lot of Beards Hill Plaza in Aberdeen. Proceeds support the Lions Club's aid to people with sight, hearing and physical disabilities.
Harford Memorial Hospitalin Havre de Grace recruited 52 students from the three high schools this year in its volunteer program.
"Many times, they're an extra pair of hands, eyes or feet," said Susan Anderson, volunteer coordinator at Harford Memorial. "Nowadays, the professional staff is so wrapped up in doing things that only professional people can do. Volunteers do the soft kinds of jobs that only they can. You know, 'Hi, Mr. Jones, how are you?,' holding hands, smiling."
Volunteers, aged 14-17, commit at least four hours a week. The program has strict standards, including specialized training.
Dressed in identical crisp white uniforms topped with red-and-white striped tunics, volunteers Melissa Hammond and Laura Randers-Pehrson recently demonstrated the correct hospital procedure to make a bed.
Facing each other across a mattress, the two Edgewood High School freshmen affect a practiced precision normally reserved for folding the flag at military funerals. Ateach corner of the bed, the two girls tuck the sheets at the correctangle to keep them from dangling to the floor, leaving enough slack for a patient's legs to move comfortably.
Instead of snapping openthe pillow case, Laura carefully turns it inside out and slides it onto the pillow, which Melissa holds at
arms length in front of her.
"I'm not allowed to shake it because of the dust particles and germs that might be stirred up," Laura explained.
At the hospital, volunteers learn teamwork is crucial, even when making a bed. "We thought that you just make the bed and that was it," Melissa said.
Asthe SMILES name implies, volunteering works both ways, changing those in need and volunteers, Havre de Grace freshman Sara Petty said.
"It makes you take less for granted because you learn about people who are less privileged," she said. "It makes our lives special because we learn to work with people."