WESTMINSTER — For 23 years, retired state police Cpl. Charles "Chuck" Lukowski donned the same uniform, complete with badge and gun.
But on the Sunday before Christmas, Lukowski could be found decked out in more famous duds, the kind that consist of the big red suit and fuzzy white beard that make little kids' hearts beat a little faster.
About 100 children filled the Westminster Fire Hall, hoping Santa Lukowski would make their wishes come true.
All dressed in a white and red party dress, Kellie Keeney, 16 months, arrived a little ahead of Santa. She had time for a brief snooze on her mother's lap, before greeting Santa for the first time.
"She hasn't seen Santa yet,but she loves to tear open packages," said her mother, Belinda Keeney of Westminster.
Kellie slept through most of the preparations, oblivious to Blake Smith, 10, helping his father, Mike, set up for thedinner and party. Before the jolly old man arrived, though, she was wide awake and practicing her wave and saying "hello" to everyone whosmiled at her.
Lukowski, treasurer of the Carroll Chapter of the Maryland Troopers Association, has played Santa for the past three years to needy county children.
The arrival of Santa with his cache of gifts was the highlight of a Dec. 22 party for those children and their families thrown each year by the troopers association.
The festivities, held for the past eight years at the fire hall on Main Street, included a holiday dinner with all the trimmings served by troopers and their families.
"I come every year," said Zuzy Gonzalez, 10. "The food is great, especially the mashed potatoes."
At 3 1/2 weeks, Marcus Fields may have been the youngest celebrant, but his parents, Peggy and Bobby, had him outfitted in a tiny Santa suit, with green and red pompons.
"This is his first party," said Peggy of Westminster, with a smile. "He just wants some clothes."
The event is a welcome change of atmosphere for many of the officers, who think they are often perceived as intimidating.
"It's a chance to give something back to the community," said Trooper John J. Wisniewski. "A lot of times the police get knocked for writing tickets and stopping people. But we also work in the community. We do more than just provide police protection."
The day before the party, some of the association members trekked to a Pennsylvania Toys 'R Us to find the giftsthe county youngsters have told the Department of Social Services they most want to receive from Santa.
For the past several years, the toy store has given the officers a discount on everything they buy.
After their shopping expedition, the officers went to the fire hall, where they had a gift-wrapping party and a visit by Old St. Nick for their own children.
But the big event occurred around 2 p.m. last Sunday, when Santa arrived bearing at least one gift for each needy child.
"Watches, hand-held games, Barbies and sports sweat suits topped the wish lists this year," said Jan Howard, office manager with the county Human Services.
Lukowski, who has four children, said playing the world's most famous elf is not only a treat for the youngsters.
"It gives you the true meaning of Christmas to see the smiles on the faces of the kids and their parents," Lukowski said.
This year, Santa's work was not done when he dropped in at the fire hall. Members of the troopers association also raised enough money to replace the Nintendo computer game set for the pediatric ward at Carroll County General Hospital, so Santa's sleigh also made a stop there.
To raise the money to purchase the gifts, the troopers' association held a golf tournament in May at the Wakefield Valley Golf Club. Local businesses -- including Westminster Motors, the Westminster Elks Lodge, and Mann's Liquors -- sponsored holes or equipment for the tournament.
The troopers also accepted donations for the Christmas for Kids fund, and came up with almost $4,000 to buy the presents andput on the party.