For Elaine Erwin and her two children, the Christmas party sponsoredby the Northern Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce on Saturday was a perfect pick-me-up for what could have been a sorrowful holiday.
Erwin's husband, Michael, died two months ago. Of course, Christmas this year just won't be the same. But the annual Needy Children's party helped, if only for a day, raise the family's spirits.
"This helps me get through the holidays," Erwin said.
For 11-year-old Heather and 8-year-old Krystal, the party at Martin Spalding High School meant food and gifts and Santa and music.
"The party is really nice," Erwin said. "It's nice for now. But I keep thinking, what about later on? The churches and neighbors have helped with dinners and presents for the kids. But they do not replace the loss of myhusband."
For many of the 150 kids who showed up Saturday, the party will be their Christmas. "For some of these kids, this is all they are going to have," said Mark T. Baumgardner, a Chamber member who helped start the party back in 1986. That year, only 20 children showed up.
"I wanted the Chamber to do something for the community," Baumgardner said. "There was a need. The Chamber should be more than aself-serving enterprise. I like kids and I think everybody likes kids."
Putting on the party is not easy, especially with this year's record number. The Chamber canvassed elementary schools, churches andday-care centers, compiling a list of interested families. Those names were then given out to people all over North County, so personalized gifts could be given.
No matter how many children kept signing up, the list of people wanting to buy gifts never grew thin.
"Every time we got a phone call for more kids, we got another phone call for someone wanting a name," said Shirley Murphy, a chamber member. "It all works out."
Saturday, Santa handed the gifts out as each child sat on his lap and posed for a portrait.
Each child also got a Christmas ornament and a stocking full of candy. And they got to watch a show put on by the Spalding cheerleaders.
"This was very nice for the kids," said William Jarmer, who took his 6-year-old son Justin to the party. "They love it here."
"I think this was a great thing for them to do for the children in the area," said Mildred Trapp, who was there with her daughter and grandchildren. "And the gifts were so nice that they gave all the boys and girls."
Artie Trapp, 9, also said he had a good time. "It's fine," he said. "You get presents."
La'Shelle Queen, 11, said she wanted music tapes, a Walkman andclothes for Christmas. She liked the party because of "the presents and stuff like that."
Thomas Michael and his wife Yolanda brought their four children, ranging from 1 to 6 years old, to the party. "Itwill help," Thomas Michael said. "I know it takes money, but this isnice."