By Wendi Winters
The Annapolis Capital
Elves, large ones, began arriving at a nondescript cinder block building in Pasadena before sunrise on Tuesday -- Christmas Eve.
Inside, a large room was a veritable Santa's workshop. It was filled with bags of toys, books, toiletries and electronic gadgets, ready for delivery to the children of the "working needy" in Anne Arundel County.
Volunteers of The Sharing Foundation, a 22-year-old nonprofit organization, had spent the year collecting items to provide a Christmas surprise to more than 475 children and youth.
One teen volunteer. Grace Hayden, a sophomore at Severna Park High School, decided to do without presents for her Sweet 16. What she asked for, instead, were donations for the Christmas program.
"We have 50 collection bins around the county and collect more donations from 28 county public schools," said Sharing Foundation board member Ken Maley.
"In addition to our Christmas program," Maley said, "we have a school supply program. School counselors have a special pickup day at the beginning of the school year for these supplies."
Another board member, Vickie Coover, coordinates the two programs with school guidance counselors.
This month volunteers bagged and wrapped the gifts according to the Christmas wishes of the children, many recommended for participation by the school counselors. Parents or other family members picked up most of the gifts.
The elves included a trio of sisters dressed as Santa's helpers, including Grace Hayden and her two sisters, Saran and Rose.
Others were members of the state police, the Annapolis police and the county police reserve, plus a dozen other adults and children.
While most families come to pick up the donations, a handful get a personal visit from Santa on Christmas Eve.
"Every child receives a hat and gloves, books, school supplies, a game, stuffed animals and the item they asked for," Kathleen Hayden said.
Her employer, the Severna Park office of the Long & Foster real estate company, is one of the sponsors of the toy collection drive.
Santa Claus arrived, ho-ho-ho-ing and fluffing his luxuriant beard. When not sporting white whiskers, he is Arnold resident Charlie Crystal, a former industrial coatings foreman.
Board member and longtime volunteer Richard Meade shared the list of homes that would be visited.
The first stop, at the Bay Hills Apartments, was the home of two married restaurant workers.
The husband wasn't home: He had gone to work at 4 a.m. at a Severna Park eatery. His wife had to leave soon to start her shift in an Edgewater restaurant.
"Oh my goodness!" Melissa Castro exclaimed when she saw the bags of gifts for the couple's two young daughters arriving at her front door. "Thank you so much!"
Grinning, Katherine Castro, 7, ripped the wrapping from one of her presents.
"Thank you Santa!" she said, hugging him.
At the next stop, four young children received presents.
Outside, neighborhood children had gathered, drawn by the sirens and flashing lights of the police escort. The elves brought extra presents to hand out to them.
At another stop, a mom said, "My children wouldn't have had anything for Christmas this year. We live in the basement of my parents' house. They're barely able to support themselves and us, too. It's been a rough year."
Teary-eyed, she turned to Santa and The Sharing Foundation volunteers.
"Thank you so much! You guys have been a huge help!"
Hearing the sirens, Revell Downs residents spilled out of their homes, some still wearing pajamas. A few more, peered from their windows as the commotion rolled by.
Watching Santa emerge from a house filled with children, neighbor LaVera Neal-Thompson said, "We heard the noise. I thought it was a firetruck.
"This is awesome!"
She introduced her grandson, Gevari Coates, 9, to a cheerful Santa Claus. Santa gave Gevari a hug and a small toy.
Watching the crowd, State Police Cpl. David Marshall, in his seventh year as a volunteer, smiled. "It's always a good thing to give."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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