On Christmas, while many of her married relatives are out visiting and exchanging gifts, Lynn Koch plans to stay home with her 4-year-old daughter, Amanda.
"I feel out of place," said Koch, who is divorced and says her husband takes no interest in their child. Christmas, the day of warm family gatherings, is hard.
"I don't like it. I like the day after," she said.
If not for Amanda, she wouldn't bother to have a Christmas tree at home -- or go to the Westminster fire hall, as she did yesterday, for a Christmas dinner and celebration.
But there, at the annual dinner sponsored by Maryland Troopers Association Lodge 20, she felt at home about the holiday. "We're all in the same position here," Koch said. "You don't have to prove yourself."
Each Christmas season since the early 1980s the local lodge in Carroll County has given the dinner for needy families referred to it by social service agencies.
About 100 children came yesterday, joined by family members, State Police officers who provide the presents, and local firefighters who make the dinner.
State Police Lt. Earl Bredenburg said he came up with the idea as a way to meet children and their families in circumstancesm other than arrest or disaster.
"I just thought we were approaching Christmas with a lot of kids not going to have a good Christmas" because of poverty or family troubles, he said. "We had a lot of money we weren't doing anything with."
The local lodge of the Troopers Association, which is the State Police labor union, has sponsored the dinner every year since the event was started, Bredenburg said, except for one year when all of its assets were frozen in the Old Court Savings and Loan liquidation.
The lodge subsequently started raising money for the Christmas dinner with a golf tournament each spring. Bredenburg said the proceeds from that event pay for most of the $4,000 worth of Christmas presents bought for the children. Lodge dues cover the balance.
"The big thing is, we don't want kids to be afraid of policemen. A lot of kids are," said Tfc. Mike Smith, who is president of the lodge. Some of the troopers were in uniform yesterday. Others, like Smith, dressed in civilian clothes to show them that "we're human like they are."
One trooper was dressed as Santa Claus. Each child took a turn in his lap before being handed a bag of presents.
The Human Services Program of Carroll County arranged ahead of time to find out what each child wanted. And, within reason, that is what each child got after troopers drove to a toy store in Hanover, Pa., at 6 a.m. Saturday to make the massive purchase.
When Amanda Koch took her turn with the man in red corduroys and white Brillo beard, her mother, Lynn, smiled for the first time that afternoon. "Children is what Christmas is all about," Koch said.
Christmas is a season for celebration by those of all ages, of course.
In Baltimore yesterday, the residents of a senior citizen public housing apartment building on 25th Street were treated to a Christmas dinner by a neighborhood merchant.
Jyong Ja Yun, who has owned the 25th Street Market since September, served a turkey dinner in the social room of the Brentwood Apartments.
She called the event a tribute to her best customers.
Business has been slow, Yun said, but the residents of the Brentwood Apartments have been steady patrons.
"I like the old people," said Yun, 45, who came to this country from South Korea 16 years ago.
For their part, the Brentwood dwellers like the way Yun and her family at the store sometimes carry their grocery bags to their apartments. And, they said, Yun never takes advantage of them in counting out their change, as some merchants do.
"A person like me, I need to trust a person," said Cleola Johnson, who gets about in a wheelchair and whose fingers are gnarled by diabetes and arthritis. "See, some people can be just rude to see if you can handle yourself," Johnson said, "like dropping your zTC money on the floor to see if you can pick it up."
Yun said she, too, has handled challenges, mainly in the tension between blacks and Koreans who run shops in the area. She said she hopes the dinner will serve as a gesture to help heal that breach, though no such gesture was needed with the Brentwood crowd.
"Being they're Korean and we're minority people, it makes a close relationship," said Glenn McCall, vice president of the