WATERVILLE – Last Christmas, Brittany Richardson’s father was deployed to Afghanistan. But this Christmas will be a little brighter.

With her father home now, her family celebrated Sunday at a Christmas party for the families of Maine Army National Guard members, organized by the Forrest J. Pare Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1285.

At the Waterville Armory, about 240 volunteers, family members and soldiers with the 488th Military Police Company chatted, listened to music and ate a meal that included beef stew and macaroni and cheese.

About 48 children received a gift and could have their picture taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Later, they enjoyed the tricks of a magician.

“I think it’s a good way to connect with people, and it’s good to see everybody here with all their kids,” said Richardson, 17, of South China. “It gives you a feeling of what this company is all about.”

Her sister, Courtney, 14, agreed. “It’s fun to see all the other military families because we have things in common and can share that,” she said.

Not all of the guardsmen will be home for Christmas this year. About 50 of the company’s 170 military policemen are deployed with the 1136th Transportation Company of the National Guard, said Capt. Eric Dos Santos, 29, of Augusta, commander of the company.

Some family members came to the party without their loved ones, who likely won’t be home for Christmas. Dos Santos said he knows that it’s hard on both families and soldiers when troops are away from home during the holidays, as he was in Afghanistan last year.

“We absolutely thank them for what they’re doing,” he said about all deployed soldiers. “We understand the sacrifice.”

This year the Waterville VFW post “adopted” the military police company and will do “anything we can do to help,” said the post’s commander, Dick Willette. Service members came from across the state, including Portland and Houlton, for the party.

“I’ve never seen so much commitment and such an outpouring of support from an organization,” Dos Santos said of the VFW. The party’s ability to connect military family members, giving them a network to rely on when husbands, wives, fathers and mothers are deployed, is “critical to our success.”