In a most undignified manner, Prince George's County police Officer Katrina Geesam leaped into the air and waved her arms wildly, all in an effort to get the little girl perched on Santa's knee to look toward the camera and smile.
It wasn't pretty, but it worked.
Geesam and about 100 of her fellow officers, dozens of community volunteers and school employees yesterday treated nearly 500 children from low-income families to a Christmas bash at Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
"I just love the little children," Geesam said later.
The holiday party was the seventh the county police department has held, providing the young guests with food, entertainment and, of course, gifts.
"For many of these children, this will be the only real Christmas they'll have," Police Chief David B. Mitchell said.
At yesterday's party, held in the Greenbelt high school's cafeteria, which was trimmed in tinsel and had a 15-foot Christmas tree, the children were treated to rap music as well as traditional Christmas songs such as "Jingle Bells." They lunched on donated Popeye's fried chicken and Safeway sodas and then were lined up for photographs with Santa and members of the Redskinettes.
The police department raised $11,000 to pay for the party from private donations and a $2,000 grant from the United Black Fund.
At each table sat a police officer or uniformed department employee who helped the children with their coats, led them in songs and organized them for nearly five hours of activities. A few parents were there, and several school employees who drove the school buses or prepared the school looked on.
"I really get something out of it, to see the smiling faces," said Alphonzo Feemster, a bus driver.
The children squirmed with delight in their seats, sang Christmas songs with relish and screamed madly when the surprise guests appeared -- the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. On the way home, each child was given a balloon and a backpack full of presents, including an AM/FM cassette player with headphones.
"It's neat," said Jermaine Wilson, 10. "Everybody can get together and have fun."
The idea for the annual Christmas Party was born out of a collaboration between two forces often at odds with each other -- Cora Rice, an NAACP activist who is now president of the county NAACP, and the police commanders. The NAACP and the police department often have clashed over the way the officers interact with the community, particularly with black residents.
The Christmas party is seen by both sides as a way to help change the perceptions that the youngest members of the community might have of police.
"When you . . . see an officer sitting with the children and the officer is comfortable and the children are comfortable -- now when they see an officer, they will run up and hug the officer rather than run away," Rice said.
Mitchell agreed. "This is one of the wisest investments we will ever make," he said. "It'll help build a rapport with the children that, hopefully, they will have for a long time."