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Articles by Shelby Conrad

The Anne Arundel Food Bank’s new face looks to get the ­non-profit new space
      No one has ever become poor by giving.
–Anne Frank
 
        Susan Thomas is breaking in some new shoes, walking a path blazed by Food Bank founder Bruce Michalec. 
       Thirteen years ago, Thomas volunteered at the Anne Arundel County Food Bank. Two months into her new position, Michalec ran into health problems. He needed help.
      Eager to give back to the community, Thomas stepped up to learn the ropes from the creator himself. 
      Thomas, though, is no stranger to charitable work.
      She started as a teenager, volunteering as a candy striper at North Arundel Hospital. She also volunteered with Happy Helpers for the Homeless around the holidays. 
      She took notice of the Food Bank and volunteered to answer the phones. One month later, she was offered a job.
       “At the time, the staff consisted of four employees: a driver, bookkeeper, administrative assistant and executive director,” Thomas reminisces. “It was a very close group, and I really liked being part of a team that made a difference in someone’s life.”
       Thomas’s involvement steadily grew, as she added grant writing and bookkeeping to her responsibilities.
      “This is a unique job,” Thomas says. “I knew the harder I worked, the more people we would be able to assist and the more services we would be able to offer.”
       When Michalec retired in January after 30 years of service, he passed the baton to Thomas.
       Her first few months were fraught with troubles. For 14 years, the Anne Arundel County Food Bank worked out of the old Crownsville Hospital kitchen. The sprawling building had plenty of storage and massive freezers to keep perishable food — perfect for a growing pantry. However, their tenancy was uncertain. Then, the roof caved in.
      “We’ve had volunteers come out to patch the roof from time to time,” Thomas says. “But these buildings are very old. We don’t want to spend $100,000 for a new roof.”
       Thomas now has another reason to hold off on the roof repairs: The hospital grounds are for sale. 
      The Chesapeake Bayhawks have their sights set on that property. The Annapolis-based, semi-professional men’s lacrosse team is making moves to turn the grounds into a new stadium with parking and practice fields. Thomas says the Bayhawks are still willing to grandfather the Food Bank into its design plans. But that will take too long.
      “There’s no reason to wait,” Thomas says. “Our goal is to remain on the hospital grounds — but build a whole new space.” 
      They’ll need the room. Last year, the Food Bank handed out more than 260,000 pounds of food. 
      To get the building they need, Thomas is working with the state for a mix of grants and capital bonds. In combination with fundraising, they’ll need government help.
      Thomas hopes that the state will give a 100-year lease on the Crownsville hospital property. She’ll need a senator and delegate to back the plan; who depends on the November elections. Once she’s got backing, she’ll need to meet with Gov. Larry Hogan.
       Of the old building, Stuart Cohen, three-year volunteer truck driver for the Food Bank, says, “we are definitely lucky to have it. But it’s a huge undertaking to maintain. It’s not built for constant truck traffic, either.” 
      Christine Pokorny, a long-time volunteer at the Food Bank, looks forward to keeping up with “growing need in Anne Arundel County. A new space will make us much more effective,” she says.
       Part of growing with the times, Pokorny says, is Thomas herself. “I was really happy when Susan took over,” the volunteer says. “She has a terrific vision for the future, and she wants to try to reach new people in new ways.”
       With a brand new building, Thomas and her team would finally be able to focus on their programs and community — rather than struggling to keep a roof over their heads. 
 
A Remarkable Time
      “This is a really remarkable time,” says Anne Arundel Food Bank Chairman J.J. Fegan. 
       In the nine years Fegan, a local realtor, has led the board, he’s seen demand surge through the Food Bank’s sliding doors.
       “We live in one of the richest counties in one of the wealthiest states in America,” Fegan says. “Too many kids are going to school hungry, and I want to help give back.”
      Michalec felt the same. 
      A champion of charity, Michalec spent more than 30 years building what is now the Anne Arundel County Food Bank and a community around it. 
       The operation began inside a church with Michalec distributing a small federal surplus of food to families in need. Over time, he expanded the Food Bank into a countywide program that gives away more than $1.25 million in food annually. 
       As well as food, people needed resources. Ever responsive, Michalec rose to the need. 
      “Every time I gave away a bed or a wheelchair,” Michalec told Bay Weekly in 2014, “it was like giving people food because they would have been using food money to buy it otherwise.”
      The expanded Anne Arundel County Food and Resource Bank remains the only free place to go for food and other resources like appliances, furniture, medical equipment, nutritional supplements, personal hygiene products and even vehicles.
        Expansion has meant more programs. So far this year, Thomas has given out 150 bicycles to underprivileged kids. 
       Thomas’ team has broadened its Backpack Buddies program. They used to help almost 1,500 students by sending home backpacks full of food for the weekend. Now they assist more than 5,000 kids. 
       Individual donations, mostly through food drives, account for about 20 percent of the quarter-million pounds of food distributed by the bank to individuals, families and food pantries throughout the county. “The remainder,” Thomas says, “we receive through partnerships with local stores and Feeding America vendors.”
       With greater need and the prospect for a new space, more volunteers will be needed. The Food Bank already gets some help from correctional center work programs. Thomas has three to five inmates who help with daily packing and moving. She gets helpers from the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Center and United Way of Central Maryland. But with growing need comes greater responsibility. 
      More volunteers are needed right now, Thomas says, because the Food Bank is “headed into our busy season.” The back-to-school rush begins this hectic period, which grows into Thanksgiving food drives, then holiday gift donations.
      “We’re growing and we’re adapting. We’ve got this new power at our disposal, and we can use it to give more to our community than ever before,” Thomas says of the future.
      Drop off donations Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm at the Food Bank. For large donations or to become a volunteer, call the office: 410-923-4255, 120 Marbury Dr., Crownsville, www.aafoodbank.org.

Sandy Marron of Heritage Harbour collects books for soldiers.  

Operation Paperback, a non-profit founded in 1999, sends shipments of books to military bases all over the world. Marron is one of 19,000 volunteers under the Operation Paperback umbrella.  

The books go to military families, veterans, hospitals and bases overseas. The books help soldiers learn, pass the time or, on deployment, read to their children via webcam. Romance and religious books aren’t accepted.  

Everyone involved with this program is a volunteer, so Operation Paperback is a true non-profit. Each volunteer must find the books, boxes and the money needed to mail the books out. 

“I have worked with this great organization since 2011 and sent out over 16,000 books, puzzle books, men’s magazines and others,” Marron said. 

The Heritage Harbour Woman’s Club, John Taylor Funeral Home, Heritage Harbour Beer Wine and Spirits and Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits help support Operation Paperback. 

To donate, email: [email protected], subject books. 

So, you’re ready to venture into downtown Annapolis. Maybe you’re out for a sunny stroll down Main Street. Maybe you and your friends fancy a night out on the town. Whatever your reason, there’s one thing weighing on your mind: parking.  

Many city-goers avoid parking garages in search of cheaper street parking. Starting this month, the city of Annapolis intends to make garages a sweeter option. 

Heading into town on a Sunday? The Whitmore Parking Garage, on the corner of Calvert and Clay streets, now has free parking every Sunday until 4pm. Later in the afternoon, you can park at Whitmore for just $2. Parking is free all weekend at the Calvert Street Garage, across from St. John’s College. If you’re driving into Annapolis after work during the week, you’ll find free parking after 6pm at the Calvert Street Garage.  

If you’re an Annapolis resident, you can now park for free for two hours at any city-owned parking garage. Pick up your parking pass at 60 West Street for the KnightonGotts and Hillman parking garages.

2018 Sneaker Index: 36 inches and rising

As they have for 31 years, a chain of people walked into the Patuxent River on June’s second Sunday, hand in hand, and fully clothed. A tall man clad in overalls, cowboy hat and white sneakers waded at the center of that procession.

            Bernie Fowler could, at one time, walk shoulder high in the Patuxent and still see his feet on the sandy bottom. In 1988, then-state Sen. Fowler held the first-ever Patuxent River Wade In, encouraging local, like-minded environmentalists to focus on the river’s well-being.

            That inaugural year, the convoy only made it to 10 inches deep before Fowler lost sight of his bright, white shoes.

            This year’s contingent made it to 36 inches — 41⁄2 inches less than last year, but with the recent torrential rainfall, murky water was predictable.

            The Sneaker Index measurement, now made at Jefferson Patterson Park, isn’t an entirely foolproof experiment. Too many factors can disrupt the Patuxent at any given time. What Fowler’s Sneaker Index does do is educate, raise awareness and create community.

            Old friend Steny Hoyer, the second most powerful representative in the U.S. House, was on hand as usual measuring the damp on Fowler’s overalls.

            “For 31 years, Bernie has focused our attention on the health and cleanliness of our waterways,” Hoyer said, “and we are truly grateful for his efforts.”

            Fowler never relents in those efforts. At 94, he is unyielding in his resolve to protect the river he loves. “This year we saw some healthy signs that lifted our morale,” Fowler said. Some seaweed that hadn’t been there in previous years was uprooted. “It was heartwarming and enlightening to see that grass again, the red ducks love it,” he said.

            “We will truly never, ever, ever give up.”

 

One closes (for now); two open

       Finding a public library in Annapolis this spring has become a lot more interesting.
      The 53-year-old Annapolis Library on West Street is now closed, its building scheduled for demolition. With a new library planned for that same spot — and several pop-ups already open — Annapolitans don’t have to look too far for their public library fix. The Annapolis Library is making its temporary home in Monarch Academy on Capital Drive. And a library experiment has just opened in the Westfield Annapolis Mall. 
       The new Annapolis Monarch Library, opened April 16, is off West Street on Capital Drive, with helpful signs pointing you in the right direction. The library and Monarch Academy charter school share the same building, but the library has its own and separate parking spaces and wing.
       In the entryway, you’ll see large renderings of the digitalized plans for the future public library.
      Past the entry, the library exists as one spacious, airy room, with help desks right at the front and a large children’s section past the stacks. Library staff are eager to answer questions about their new home. 
      Gloria Davis Harberts, regional manager for the area, is accommodating and ready to help patrons out of any confusion. 
      “We had people lining up outside before we opened,” Harberts told me. 
      Almost 9,000 items are already in the Monarch location, and the hold shelves are filling up with requests. 
       Harberts wants to make sure the library’s stay in Monarch brings in more users than ever. Class trips  through the library with Monarch Academy students are already a hit.
       “Some of the students have never been to a public library before,” she says. 
       Creating enthusiastic students and making libraries fun are two goals Harberts hopes to meet. 
 
 
A New Discovery
     Nowadays, you can also go to the library when you’re at the mall. Discoveries: the library at Westfield Annapolis Mall, opened April 30. The 3,000-square-foot space is nestled next to Crate and Barrel in the west wing of the mall, across from the Under Armour store.
     “We believe this new library will open many people’s eyes to what a modern library is and does,” Anne Arundel County Public Library chief Skip Auld says. “Public libraries have transformed from simply being places where people pick up their reading or viewing or listening materials to places where people gather to see friends and neighbors and make new friends, to learn from programs.”
      Technology and entertainment play a large role in this space, with a 3D printer, laptop rentals, self checkout, free movie streaming and online tutoring. 
      New Discoveries branch manager Rachael Myers and her team have lots of new programs in the works, many focused on children and teens. There will be early literacy programs and a Discovery Dock children’s area, along with a bilingual reading corner every Tuesday morning.
      To help make the library a creative community, the Annapolis Arts Alliance has partnered with Discoveries Library to showcase local art in the space. The pieces will be changed regularly to feature new artists and new types of art.
      The Discoveries Library is also more accessible to readers and shoppers with Saturday hours, 10am-5pm. 
      “This branch is completely separate and different from the Monarch Academy space,” says Library Communications Manager Christine Feldmann. It has a very different atmosphere. “We hope to prove that bringing a library into an already highly trafficked area will expose the library to new customers and reengage those that haven’t used a library in a while.” 
      Discoveries will be open until the end of 2019. Depending on the success of this space, the library could make another home at the Westfield Mall. 
 
What to Expect
       The new library on West Street is planned to open in late 2019 or early 2020. 
       The new 32,500-square-foot library will be built where the old library stood, the lot now enlarged from 3.9 acres to 4.7 acres. 
       To serve the needs of a changing community, the new building will have a section for tutoring, large computer stations, separate meeting spaces of different sizes and a business center equipped with tools and services such as shared office space.
     There will also be a vending area for snacks and drinks, expanded children’s spaces with comfortable seating and a tinker lab for workshops and classes. 
 
Test It Out
       As a new Annapolitan, I signed up for a library card while I was asking questions. I figured it was a good test of the new Annapolis Library at Monarch 
       After walking through the stacks of fantasy and fiction, I approached the help desk and asked for a card. 
      Five minutes later I was a new library cardholder with all the information I needed. I spotted an interesting-looking new thriller on the staff picks shelf, checked it out and took it home where it’s mine … for seven days.

Local students are stepping up, speaking out and marching for a safe education

       Right here in Annapolis, students are assembling behind their colleagues in Parkland to speak up for their right to a safe education. 
      Mackenzie Boughey, a sophomore at the Severn School in Severna Park, watched with rising unease as the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, overwhelmed television and social media. First she felt horror. Then inspiration. 
       Seeing people her own age and younger standing up for the friends they lost, Boughey decided enough was enough. If a lone gunman could end and change so many lives in a small, safe town like Parkland, was any place safe?
      That was a question worth talking about. Every place. 
      The determined 17-year-old athlete, bagpipe player and leader stepped up to help organize the March for Our Lives rally in Annapolis March 24 to encourage gun control and a safe future for students. Boughey sought to create a space where students, teachers and parents could safely express their outrage, ask for change — and be taken seriously.
      Severn School students Maya Rogalski, Alexandra Szynal, Maddi Meyers and Lauren Carlson joined the first planning committee meeting on February 24, two weeks after the shooting.
 
Preparation or Prevention 
      All schools prepare for fires. Some schools practice for tornadoes or hurricanes. In the 1950s, students hid under their desks during bomb threat drills. In the early 2000s, sniper attacks had Chesapeake regional schools on high alert as students took shelter indoors.
      In 2018, students are practicing active shooter drills to be ready for a rogue gunman on campus. There is a history of preparing kids for danger in school. In this case, the danger could be preventable.
      Boughey’s Severn School is working hard on emergency preparedness and had an active shooter drill scheduled before the massacre in Parkland. She appreciates her school’s dedication to safety.
     “It’s nice to know the school was thinking about preparing us before, but it shouldn’t be necessary,” Boughey says. “Our main goal is to fix it now before anything else happens.” 
 
Something Else Happens
     To that goal Boughey and fellow organizers are in support of changes that are radical in term of political achievability: improving background checks, raising the purchasing age to 21, limiting semi-automatic weapons and banning assault rifles altogether.
      Representatives for the National Rifle Association have been outspoken about adding firearms to the equation instead of restricting them. From the County Council to the White House, many elected officials agree with that stand.
      On March 1, President Trump met with NRA Lobbyist Chris Cox. After their meeting, Cox tweeted: “POTUS supports the Second Amendment, supports strong due process and doesn’t want gun control.”
      Arming teachers makes guns the solution, not the problem, Boughey says. 
      “Teaching is a hard enough job without adding guns,” Boughey says, reflecting on her father’s work as a public school teacher. He is not interested in carrying a weapon in school, nor does he have the time for the training required.
       Opinions like these — all sorts of opinions — are what Boughey hopes will be shared at the Annapolis March from Lawyers Mall to Susan Campbell Park.     “This is about the students. We will be heard,” she says. 
       “The aim of the march,” she says, “is not about politics.” The conversation has turned political and angry on too many occasions. Organizers want to make sure the march does not go that way. Positive thinking and forward movement is their intention.
      Opinions like Boughey’s are not safely expressed in some places. Movements like this march open themselves to criticism and intimidation.
        On March 24, Boughey hopes Lawyers Mall will be a safe space for area students to think and wish and pray out loud. 
 
Turning the Tide
       The kids have their supporters. 
       Students left school by the thousands on Wednesday March 14, one month after the massacre in Parkland. Demonstrations lasted 17 minutes to honor each victim killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As school administrators considered how to react, many principals, parents and teachers were supportive. 
       Parents are uniting behind their children to say enough is enough. On March 13, 7,000 shoes were laid on the lawn of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., to honor victims lost to gun violence. Calling on Congress to take action, protesting parents held signs that read #NotOneMore.
       “I’m so glad to see students standing up for what they believe. People are quick to dismiss them because they’re students and they’re young. But I think they’re underestimating them,” says Mackenzie’s mother. Heather Boughey. “I’m so impressed with the students from Parkland. They’re well spoken, well researched and are fighting for a change that is desperately needed.”
        There’s a long path ahead for any gun-control legislation to pass federally. But the steps already taken by the state of Florida show that on a smaller scale, changes can be made. The new Florida gun bill raises the minimum age for purchase to 21, bans bump stocks and creates a longer waiting period during the background check process.
      It doesn’t, however, ban assault rifles, and it allows the arming of school personnel.
       Legislation has a long way to go. But as far as it goes, change has come largely because of student activists like Boughey.
       In Maryland, Congressman Anthony Brown welcomed the planning committee, as well as representatives from Moms Demanding Action, for an open discussion about school safety and gun control. 
       On February 27, Brown and Pennsylvania colleague Brian Fitzpatrick introduced a bipartisan bill to tighten gun safety by raising the purchasing age for assault rifles.
      “This common-sense bipartisan bill is a critical first step that closes a dangerous loophole in our gun laws,” Brown said. 
      Both congressmen say they will do what they can to gather support for the bill from their colleagues. Their goal is to prevent Parkland from ever happening again.
 
The March
       On March 24, students will have their safe space. From 11am to 1pm, the March For Our Lives gathers in downtown Annapolis, beginning at Lawyers Mall.
        For the first hour, ideas will be in the air as speakers share their thoughts on gun control. 
      Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley will be there, saying a few words in support of the march.
      There’ll representatives from Moms Demanding Action, a powerful grassroots organization founded in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. Speakers from Moms Demanding Action will explain common-sense solutions, including legislative solutions, to gun violence. 
     The father of a Virginia Tech survivor has been invited. Students, teachers and school administrators will be there, and, organizers hope, elected officials who have the power of action.
      After the speeches, the marchers make their way down to Susan Campbell Park at City Dock to sign a banner petition for gun-blocking legislation. There’ll be voter registration for students who’ll be 18 by Maryland’s primary election in June and the general election in November. 
      In the midst of the nationwide debate, Boughey and her peers stand resolute: “Whether we fix this or not,” she says, “we’ll still be here fighting.”
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