CHICAGO — Sitting at the piano with a framed photograph of her father, a Chicago police officer killed in the line of duty, 19-year-old Elyse Haymaker played "Carol of the Bells" to a room filled with family, police officers and the Clauses themselves on Saturday.
By the end of the performance, the Oakton Community College student was teary-eyed, along with most of the audience.
Her father, Sgt. Alan Haymaker, was killed in a car accident while responding to a burglary in February 2010. He was a third-generation officer and a 21-year veteran of the CPD, who also left behind his wife and two other daughters.
"He always loved to hear my music," Elyse Haymaker, of Portage Park, said.
Each year, the non-profit Chicago Police Memorial Foundation visits school-age kids of fallen or seriously injured officers through "Operation Santa," bringing with them a team of officers and elves, along with Santa and Mrs. Claus to deliver gifts and good tidings during the holiday season.
The massive operation uses a police motorcade, including a Secret Service limo, to bring an entourage of more than 40 workers and volunteers to each home. The motorcade kicked off at Macy's on State Street and traveled around Chicago and the suburbs, stopping traffic along the way and blaring sirens at every house.
Kids in the 17 families on this weekend's roster recieved gifts worth $250 from Santa, including such goodies as stuffed animals, glowsticks, candy, gift cards and Bulls tickets.
It's about showing the families that they aren't forgotten by their "police family," said Philip Cline, the organization's executive director and a former Chicago police superintendent.
"They lost a parent, but they have 12,500 parents here for them," Cline said.
Most of the six families visited Saturday had memorials in their homes made from photos, badges and their loved ones' favorite things. Perhaps none was more adorned than the memorial of Chicago's most recent fallen officer, Clifton Lewis, which contained dozens of photos, candles and a massive framed painting of Lewis in uniform.
Lewis' mother Maxine Hooks struggled through tears to describe what this Christmas, the first since he was killed during a robbery on Dec. 29, 2011, would be like for her.
"Very lonely," said Hooks, an Austin resident, who added she's appreciative of the love she's found from her family and Lewis' fellow officers.
"Ever since it happened, I've had a lot of support," Hooks said.
Lewis' stepson, 19-year-old Keyonte Thomas, remembered that it was around this time that Lewis had visited him at school at Denison University in Ohio, where he's just finished the first semester of his sophomore year.
"I guess he's here with us in spirit," Thomas said.
Chicago Police Officer Eddie Langle, who volunteered to be one of the elves, griped that he was being made fun of by the entire group for his costume, which included bright red tights. But for all his jokes, Langle said he knows how tough the visits can be for fellow officers.
"Walking into the homes, it's showing support," Langle, 35, said. "But it's a solemn reminder of what we have lost as a police family."