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Share the Blessings

Five heart-warming ways to expand your giving circle

“The need in the world is so great that we cannot reach everyone by doing just our part. We must expand our reach exponentially so more and more lives can be touched,” says Steve Anstett of Severna Park, executive director of Giving Back, Linda’s Legacy.
    From Thanksgiving to Chanukah and Christmas, we live in the season of giving.
    To help you expand your reach into lives burdened by need rather than blessed by bounty, we offer five very tangible ways, chosen, simply, because they won our hearts.

   Fill Warm Backpacks for Cold Homeless People         

    On a cold day 30 years ago, Linda Greenberg, then of Crownsville, offered the hat off her head to a homeless person who had no place to go to get warm.
    If direct action like hers appeals to you, Giving Back, Linda’s Legacy — the organization that grew from that simple act of kindness — may be your route to giving this holiday season.
    The Anne Arundel County-based charity fills backpacks with warm clothing for homeless people in the Annapolis-Baltimore-D.C. triangle.
    Our mission is two-fold, says board member Bob Kight of Annapolis. “One, to deliver to people in need, and, two, to involve as many people as we can in this volunteer activity.”
    Thus many people have a hand in filling each backpack. Sponsors pay for both backpacks and the warm wear — thermal underwear uppers and lowers, warm socks and gloves, stocking cap, hoodie sweatshirts and sweatpants — that fills them. Each $25 donation supports one backpack.
    Next, Linda’s Legacy joins forces with willing helpers to fill the packs. This December 15, nearly 1,000 empty backpacks come to the School of the Incarnation in Gambrills for Pack Day, when, grade by grade, students stuff a pack with warm wear they’ve paid for with money they’ve earned — plus a holiday note they’ve written. By pitching in, “kids get the idea of sacrifice and giving,” Kight says. “This school supports about half of the 2,000 packs we’ll give out this year.”
    More warmth is generated December 20 thru 23, when Giving Back holds a warm-ware drive at Anne Arundel County Farmers Market on Riva Road and Truman Parkway. From 10am to 4pm on those four days, community donations of new or gently used warm clothing and toiletries are gathered to help keep the homeless warm this winter.
    Volunteers sort and box the donations. Joining the many high schoolers each year is Linda Greenberg, who returns from Florida for the event. On Christmas Eve a couple of dozen U-Haul trucks surround the market pavilion, each awaiting its share of 2,000 packs to deliver to its shelter destinations: four in Anne Arundel County, 15 in Baltimore and three in Washington, D.C.
    As the sun goes down in the streets outside two Baltimore emergency shelters, Rescue Mission and the new JHR (formerly Code Blue), hundreds of people arrive for another couple of truckloads of donations of warmth.
    “It’s just fantastic the amount of good work they do in a short amount of time,” says Anne Arundel County Farmers Market board member Brenda Conti. “They gather socks, blankets — everything a person on the street might need — pack up the backpacks, and on Christmas Eve they go out with the packs and donated clothing for homeless people and people in shelters.”
    Be part of Giving Back in three ways:
    One: Sponsor a $25 backpack, or make a tax-deductible donation at www.homelessdrive.com. Sponsor a backpack in the name of a person you want to honor, who’ll receive notice of your gift in a holiday greeting card.
    Two: Organize your office, neighborhood or church to follow the example of School of the Incarnation and sponsor a Pack Day.
    Three: Volunteer to help with sorting December 20 thru 23 or with Christmas Eve delivery, caroling and cookies.

   Foster a Soldiers’ Pet         

    “I had no idea what I was getting my butt into when we started,” says Steve Albin, who founded Military Pets Foster Project the week after September 11, 2001. “Thank God for coffee, cigarettes and Pepsi.”
    When soldiers leave for their deployments, Military Pets Foster Project finds their animals nearby foster homes. In a decade, 18,000 pets have been fostered. The South Carolina-based organization fosters throughout the country, including in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
    “We’ve fostered every type of pet you can think of,” says Albin. “Dogs, cats, birds, horses, turtles, five-foot iguanas that needed their own rooms, goats, pot-bellied pigs, geckos, hermit crabs and snakes. If you can think of it we’ve fostered it.”
    The Project is careful about its placements. Social animals — dogs and birds — that live together at home are fostered together in a single home. Foster homes are also chosen near permanent homes, so pets reunited with their soldiers can visit their foster parents. Foster parents choose their species.
    Nonetheless, there are surprises.
    “One lady fostered five fainting goats,” Albin recalls. The name should have been a hint, but apparently it wasn’t. “Three months in,” Albin continues, “I got a hysterical call from the foster mother. She kept yelling, the goats just died, over the phone. I figured the goats might have had one of their spells, so I kept her on the phone a little while, then I sent her back outside. Then she started yelling, They’re alive! They’re alive! Stuff like that makes it interesting.”
    A few good men and women are still needed to give the gift of reassurance to deployed service men and women. To join the effort, visit www.netpets.org and fill out an application. Be sure to state your pet preference, including species and size.
    “We’re always in need of more foster homes. Not only because we do run out, but we need foster homes that will take specific pets, like hedgehogs,” Albin says.
    Also list pets in your household on your application.
    “You can have animals at home,” Albin says. “But you can only foster animals from one soldier at a time.”
    All the animals come to foster homes with up-to-date medical work. Dogs are micro-chipped and snakes are non-poisonous.
    When you enlist to help out these military pets, you won’t be footing the bill alone. The soldier is responsible for normal monthly expenses, such as food, grooming and supplies. The charity has a fund for emergency veterinary visits. Your job is giving the pet a loving home, writing to your soldier about the pet — and perhaps e-mailing some pictures.
    Military Pets Foster Project: 843-249-5262; www.netpets.org.

   The Gift of Reading         

    Start a new chapter in a child’s life this Christmas by donating books to the Angel Tree Book Drive. The local tradition, sponsored by the United Way of Calvert County since 2004, collects books for all ages, from infants to teens, so you can pass on the warm and fuzzy feelings in a new or gently used Pat the Bunny or invite a teen to sink her teeth into the Twilight saga.
    “We always get a great variety of books,” says Jennifer Moreland, director of community impact. “The community has been very supportive.”
    The book drive is part of the Angel Tree gift program, which collects gifts for needy families through the county social services. Books are gathered from collection points throughout the county and distributed to needy families at the Angel Tree event on December 17. Last year, more than 700 books were donated.
    “This year our goal is 800 books,” Moreland says.
    These books are more than recreational. Reading to a child is a simple way to improve school readiness and create a foundation for a lifetime of success.
    Twenty-one percent of Calvert County children are lagging in language and literacy skills when they enter school. Learning to lose themselves in a good book gives kids a head start on the skills they’ll need in school. And there’s nothing better on a cold night than to snuggle into a warm bed for a good bedtime story.
    You have until December 7 to help a needy child build a home library. Gather up an armful and drop them at locations throughout Calvert County, including all Calvert Library branches, Calvert County Senior Centers, St. Paul United Methodist Preschool, Calvert Marine Museum, Calvert County Courthouse Main Lobby, Prime Time Children’s Center, Mt. Hope Community Center, SMECO, the Tidewater School and the United Way House in Prince Frederick.
    Give the gift of reading: 410-286-0100; impact@unitedwaycalvert.org.

   Gifts That Give Hope         

    Relations, sparing no expense’ll send some useless old utensil, Or a matching pen and pencil. Just the thing I need! how nice! sang mad pianist Tom Lehr in his Christmas Carol.
    The Annapolis charity Gifts That Give Hope gives you a way off Lehr’s sharp-horned dilemma.
    “What if instead of a candle, bright scarf, or piece of shiny jewelry,” asks Jeannie Kruidenier, “you could instead honor those on your gift list by feeding a homeless family, assisting a family to keep their electricity on, medication for those in need, arts scholarships for at-risk youth, bus tokens for a needy person to get to a job interview or give water shoes for a disadvantaged kid building boats. Wouldn’t you do that?”
    You probably would. You can while having a merry night out on the town.

Spread a Little Hope through these Organizations

Anne Arundel Conflict Resolution Center

Arundel House of Hope

Box of Rain

Creating Communities

Food Link

Friends of the Light House

Girls on the Run of the Greater Chesapeake

Sarah’s House

SPCA of Anne Arundel County

We Care and Friends

Wellness House of Annapolis

    On December 8, the first night of Midnight Madness’ festive after-dark shopping in historic Annapolis, the second Gifts That Give Hope Alternative Gift Fair sets up shop at 44 Maryland Avenue, the On Pointe Studio.
    At that stop on your shopping rounds, you double your giving. Eleven local charities line up with their wish lists for people (and animals) of all ages and needs and at prices from $1 to $150.
    You choose the organizations and gifts that resound with you, to be given in the name of anyone on your list who has more scarves, ties and matching pens and pencils than could be used in this life and the next.
    At check-out, you get a card to send to Aunt Jane, noting you’ve given a pair of water shoes or one month’s electricity in her name.
    Gifts That Give Hope, the brainchild of Annapolitan Kruidenier and friend Arlene Wickens, has expanded to seven fairs in four states since its “wildly successful” first fair, in 2009, and has raised more than $25,000.
    “We love that the shoppers and recipients are able to help support the at-risk youth ages eight to 14 we serve with a nutritious meal or a new experience,” says Kelsa McLaughlin, executive director of The Box of Rain Foundation, which teaches kids skills and teamwork year-round on the water and on wheels.
    Along with Box of Rain, 10 other local charities benefit from Gifts That Give Hope Alternative Gift Fair.
    Give a Gift that Gives Hope 6-11pm Dec. 8 at 44 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis OR Nov. 28 thru Dec. 20 at www.giftsthatgivehope.org/Annapolis.

Pack A Purse for a Transient Teen

    Getting fancied up for the holidays isn’t easy for teenage girls who live in shelters, foster care or girls’ homes, for they lack the means to buy a tube of lipstick or sweet-scented lotion. A young woman who is more fortunate wanted to make a difference in the lives of these girls. So in 2007, JaMai Sanders, herself still a high school senior, started Pack-A-Purse.
    In the now-annual holiday drive, sympathetic givers donate new or gently used purses packed with toiletries a teenaged girl could use: feel-good things — like cosmetics, shampoo, nail polish and bath salts — plus everyday items most of us take for granted — toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, sanitary and first-aid items.
    It’s about looking — and feeling — good. These girls have few personal possessions, usually just clothes. When they move from shelter to shelter, from foster home to foster home, a garbage bag serves as their suitcase. The purses are possessions of their own they can take with them.  
    Wayne Phillips — owner of The Maids, a house-cleaning service with offices in Glen Burnie — learned of JaMai’s charity last year and jumped in with his staff.
    “We got a late start,” Phillips tells Bay Weekly. “We only collected purses, about 20, just from our employees. This year we started early so we could involve our customers.”
    Phillips figures that women have a lot of unused purses in their closets, laughing that his wife must have at least 20.
    He figured right, both on the purses and on the goodwill of his clients.
    “We told our customers we’d start picking up purses on November 14, but by November 13 we had already collected over 100 purses,” he says. “We’re getting avalanched with purses.”
    In the 4th Annual Pack-A-Purse Holiday Drive, Phillips, his employees and their customers will help Teens Toolbox will reach its highest level. The first year, 37 purses, four wallets, one tote bag and eight cosmetic bags were collected. Last year, the collection rose to 146 purses and 24 cosmetic bags.
    Purses are delivered before Christmas to homeless shelters and local organizations helping foster children and other girls in need. To donate new and gently used purses and new personal care items, go to www.Maidsmd.com, About Us. Drop off purses at their Glen Burnie office weekdays 8am to 5pm or call for pick-up.
    “If we get empty purses,” Phillips says, “we’ll fill them.”
    Information? Call Linda Crosby at The Maids: 410 761-7300.