KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Saturday evening, roughly 200 children and their families spent hours playing, painting, and not missing a parent.
The holidays can be especially tough for people who have lost a loved one to violence. A metro non-profit tried to make it a little easier.
The pounding music competes with the dribbling basketball sound in the gymnasium at Patrol South of the Kansas City Police Department. In the corners, Santa took pictures with families. At tables around the gym, kids stand at craft tables filled with paper as glitter and glue dripped on the floor.
An Olaf snowman, from the Disney movie Frozen, walked around the room, along with a Christmas Elf and a Tiana, the Disney princess from the movie the Princess and the Frog.
Sharee Holmes held her three year old daughter Sammi on her lap as the party neared its third hour. "She got her nails polished, we saw Tiana the princess. Took a picture with her."
Sammi was too excited to sit on her mother's lap; she quickly hopped off and started dancing nearby. And that's exactly how it's supposed to feel for all the kids.
Only the adults in the room know differently.
"This is a family for me," said attendee-turned-volunteer Rhonda Herring, "because they understand. Everyone here is going through the same pain, missing, bitterness, anger. But it's good to have someone who understands what you're going through."
The 200 children in the gym are all united by one thing: homicide. Their parents were all killed this year in the Kansas City Metro.
Three year old Sammi's father Sammy Holmes was killed in June in Raytown. "He was all about his kids and his family," said his widow Sharee. "He wasn't perfect, but he was perfect to his family."
"Brandon Herring, my son, a.k.a. Mac Bear," said his mother, volunteer Herring with a smile.
When asked if she wants to be here, that smile wavered. "Oh, I wish I wasn't here," she said. "I'd rather be somewhere else besides here."
But, in a moment, that smile is back. "This is the first day I haven't cried all day," she said.
"I've been getting hit with basketballs, I've been having a ball running around here - helping, whatever I need to do."
She first came in 2017 as a victim's family member. Her grandson, the son who will never know Brandon, just turned two. "I'm going to have to explain to King why you're Daddy's in heaven."
She felt compelled to come back, she said, again referring to the others in the room as 'a family'.
"So this year, I told them, 'Let me be a volunteer. Let me give back some of the love that I need, still, today.' If I can give someone some of the love that I've been given today, that same love, you just don't know what that means."
To date, there have been 119 homicides in Kansas City this year. That is less than 2017's, but still too much for organizers.
"This is our sixth year, and this is our biggest Christmas event," said Monica Roberts, the founder and executive director of Healing Pathway, and Saturday's event organizer.
"We don't discuss anything related to homicide," Roberts continued, "this is all about them."
In addition to coordinating vendors, caterers, volunteers, balloons, games, and music, Roberts made sure each child got a sack full of presents.
"You see that they're just being kids," she said with a smile. "They're out, able to run, able to eat all the junk food they want, and they're able to see Santa, and to let the stressors that they've experienced go - for this day."
For one day, it's just about the kids being kids. And that may be the best gift.