Clients were invited to either the morning or afternoon session. To be ensure later arrivals had a good selection from which to choose, half of the toys, both new and used, were set aside for the afternoon shopping, said Lorraine Shaw, of Halethorpe.

"In the afternoon everything is wiped out and we have to bring it all out and start again," Shaw explained.

Shoppers had several stops to make before they reached the toy give-away. In a waiting area downstairs, they filled out a form for hats, gloves and underwear. They could also pick up Christmas cards.

Once upstairs, they stopped in the narthex for a bag filled with hats, gloves and underwear they had requested.


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A lucky few also received Christmas stockings hand stitched by members of the Faithful Circle Quilters of Columbia. Elf Meier, a member of the group, brought them. Once they checked out, some also picked up Christmasfoodbaskets or fresh Christmas trees.

Okonski had ordered 40 trees and Hubbard Funeral Home delivered 20 more that had remained after the Wilkens Avenue funeralhomehosted its first Trees for Troops giveaway the previous weekend.

Clients were warned in their invitation that they may have to wait up to two hours. That's because no one was rushed. The elves were directed to guide their shoppers once around the entire hall so they could consider all the options. Then slowly, the shopping carts were filled. Once they reach the check-out table, the elf offers a wish for a Merry Christmas and heads back to the check-in table with the cart for the next shopping expedition.

It's a long day, admitted Alban. "Sometimes the spirit gets tested," she said. "You've just got to remember why you're here."

Nancy Meier, of Catonsville, said she's never forgotten one shopper who at first was really down as they browsed the tables. "She cheered up and it made me feel good," Meier said. "It's a hard, hard time, so to be able to give people Christmas" is wonderful.

Marva Heier, of Arbutus, has served as an elf for nine years. "I'll keep coming back. It's for Christmas and the children and what Christmas means, the Lord's love and his gift to us," she said.