Tomeka Harris walked away from Santa Claus yesterday shaking the wrapped present she had just received. She came back smiling to her table in the ballroom at Harrison's Pier 5 Clarion Inn and opened the gift. "I got a teddy bear," the 6-year-old said.
Other kids, about 130 in all, happily shared the same experience at a Christmas Party for children of low-income families sponsored by Harrison's.
"I got a football!" exclaimed Marteeze Artes, 10, tucking it under his arm and pretending to be his favorite player, Bo Jackson.
This is the third year that Harrison's, with the help of numerous businesses and volunteers, has held the party.
In addition to a present and a picture with Santa, each child received a hat and mittens and a bag of food to take home.
The children and their parents also received a meal and snacks, including ice cream and cupcakes.
The festive decorations, Christmas trees and cheery holiday music served to lift the spirits of everyone for two hours in these difficult economic times.
Sondra Harrison-McGee, owner of Harrison's, feared the economy might cut down on donations for the party.
"But everyone was very generous," she said. "We got lots of stuff."
The children were invited with the help of Baltimore's Urban Services agency and mayor's stations throughout the city.
"We work with low-income families in 15 neighborhood centers, so we recruit children for the party from those families we are familiar with," said Dorothy Jordan, an Urban Services official.
David Lycett, general manager for Harrison's Pier 5, said the entire staff of the restaurant works for free at the party and also brings in gifts for the children.
"This is what Christmas is all about," he said.
"It's for the kids, and what better way to celebrate it than to do something for those who are less fortunate. The kids have a great time."
Cathy Freed is a former Harrison's general manager who came back to help with the party.
Before the children arrived, Ms. Freed was preparing the table full of gift hats and mittens.
"This is a wonderful thing, but I'm afraid I'm going to be teary-eyed when it starts," she said.
The tears came when Santa Claus -- played by WMAR-TV personality Tony Pagnotti -- arrived, and a group of children jumped out of their chairs in their rush to hug him.
"That set us off crying," said Patrick Voelker, another former Harrison's employee who organized the party the two previous years and helped again this year.
"That moment makes it worth all the work."
In between dancing to Christmas songs and dance tunes, some children tested out their presents.
Maurice Biles, 11, tossed his football around the room with his brother, Tavon Biles, who said he will celebrate his ninth birthday on Christmas Day, and Ralph Howard, 10.
All three of them called the party "lots of fun."
Another party -- this one for homeless children -- is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Urban Services Youth Development Center at 1601 Madison Ave., Ms. Jordan said.
Also, the agency has arranged for a Santa to visit homeless shelters with gifts for children who cannot attend the party, Ms. Jordan said.