More than 150 children accompanied by adults packed the ballroom of the Hilton Mark Center Dec. 17 to give their requests to Santa Claus, scream in delight to the antics of A.C. the Clown, and snuggle up to Cookie Monster.
The fun was part of the fifth annual Christmas party and gift giving for needy children by the Black Fire Service Professionals of Alexandria, Inc., with the support of the Alexandria Fire Department.
"This is what Christmas is all about," said Fire Chief Gary Mesaris.
Under the direction of Capt. Thurston McClain the three-hour affair featured a buffet lunch, an interactive performance and sing along by A.C. the Clown and magician. Santa Claus, also known as John Moorehead, III, greeted every child and presented them with a Christmas gift.
The individual gifts are supplemented by bags of gifts for whole families who are recommended by shelters, recreation centers and public housing throughout the city.
"We receive both gifts and financial support from a variety of major contributors," McClain said. "With the money we go out and buy the gifts. If we have gifts left over we give them to needy families."
McClain said there is one donor who gives $500 every year. She has supported the event from the beginning but does not want her name publicized.
"I started this because when I was a kid I went to party like this and it meant an awful lot to me. We want to help needy kids particularly at Christmas. It's all about the kids," McClain said. "We work with kids and try to help them when ever we can throughout the year. But, this is our top dog event," McClain said.
A number of Alexandria firefighters of all ranks and specialties stepped in to help.
"This is my first year for this. It's really good we can do this for the community," said Firefighter Mike Lynn.
For Firefighters Corrin Humphrey and Jason Harrison it was not only their first experience with the party but also their first year as members of the Alexandria Fire Department. "This is really something very special," they both said.
Joining in the festivities were Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille and City Councilman Ludwig Gaines.
"We need to thank our fire department everyday for the protection and aid they provide. But, when we see events like this one here today it is proof they really care about our entire community," Gaines said.
Euille told the partygoers that the people who organized the event did so out of caring.
"Christmas is about giving. And, it doesn't have to be a toy. It can be L-O-V-E -- love. That's the greatest gift of all," said
"This is a sharing of caring for the people of this city. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a very safe New Year," Euille said.
In explaining the purpose of the party to the children and adults, McClain said, it was an opportunity to reach out and teach about the good things in life.
"We want to give back to the community and the best way to do that is through you," McClain said.