Police who patrol Baltimore's impoverished east side turned a station house room usually reserved for relaxation into a bustling Edison Highway pantry for the needy yesterday.
The officers, many on their own time, spent the day sorting through piles of canned beans, canned corn, canned spinach and canned ham, not to mention frozen turkeys and a seemingly endless supply of macaroni and cheese that they had spent months working with community leaders to collect.
At times, the room that also holds the station's soda and candy machines and a pool table resembled a crowded deli, with officers scanning lists of names of families who signed up for help and trying to make sure the right amount of food got into the right boxes.
"We're trying to get everyone a full-course meal," said Sgt. Angelina O'Grady, who runs the district's community service division and helped organize the food drive along with Michelle Ha, who owns a corner store.
"Do you have ham?" Officer Porfirio Negron asked O'Grady.
"I have ham," O'Grady answered, counting the contents of a box. "I need stuffing. And juice."
People lined up in the frigid air to get their holiday baskets or, more accurately, holiday boxes. Officer William Johnson looked at one woman's name on his list and quickly realized he wasn't holding nearly enough food.
"This is a family of 13," He shouted. "They'll need more."
Members of the Eastern District Police Community Relations Council compiled a list of about 150 needy families and then solicited donations for months.
"It means that the family and I can enjoy a good holiday together," said Gwendoline Green, who lives in East Baltimore and picked up more food and toys than she could carry to her car in one trip. She takes care of a husband and two grandchildren, ages 12 and 15. "This helps a whole lot," she said. "It's greatly appreciated."
The mood was spirited. Officers put on red-and-white floppy hats, a festive accompaniment to their 9 mm sidearms, and Johnson paged through a Disney on Ice coloring book while tossing bags of potato chips to Negron, who in turn handed completed boxes to Officer Adrian Amos for distribution.
All this time, Amos was trying to lead a group song that fizzled before he completed the first stanza to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." With no help, he softly hummed the rest of the song himself and went on handing out the food.