By Jamilex Gotay
After 40 years of crafting glass angels, Caring Collection is coming to a close. Its founder Bobbie Burnett is bidding farewell to her Annapolis-based nonprofit that creates stained glass pieces and donates the proceeds to cancer research.
Burnett, 84, unintentionally began the Caring Collection in Christmas 1981 when her neighbor, Susie, was diagnosed with leukemia. Burnett, an international artist, made her a stained-glass angel as a gift to lift her and her family’s spirits. It wasn’t long before neighbors noticed and began requesting their own angels. In response to the popularity, Burnett recruited volunteers to her home art studio to help create more angels.
The sale of these angels helped Susie’s family take care of her medical expenses. Although Susie didn’t survive leukemia, Caring Collection continued to help others through the sale of their handcrafted glass angels and the caring support of volunteers.
Burnett and her team of volunteers have crafted and sold glass angels of various sizes and styles, with the Joy Angel being the bestseller. They have also made glass Christmas trees, ringed roses, magnets, and more. In 2020, the Caring Collection created the Unity Angel as a symbol of uniting people during the pandemic. All proceeds were sent to the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and patient care at DeCesaris Cancer Institute at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
Volunteers were instrumental in deciding how the profits would be spent. “We would invite the healthcare professionals to the studio to present the equipment and what it’s being used for,” Burnett explained. “We also invited all members of the community so they can see where the money goes to.”
“I did not start it with the intention of a money-making project,” Burnett said. “Within the last 40 years, we’ve made over 55,000 angels and given over $1,200,000 worth of specific equipment for cancer research at Johns Hopkins and for specific equipment for patient care at Anne Arundel Medical Center.” The Caring Collection also donated hundreds of stained-glass suncatchers over the years to children attending Camp Sunrise, a camp for childhood cancer survivors, in Crownsville.
Over the years, the Caring Collection volunteers became a close-knit family. The longest-serving volunteers are Debbie Deschamps, Fran DeWolff, and Jerry Klinken, who have worked with the group for over 30 years. Now, the Caring Collection has hundreds of volunteers ranging from children to seniors. “I also involved students from Anne Arundel Public Schools who came after school for their community service,” Burnett said.
Burnett co-managed Caring Collection with her late husband, Jerry, after he retired from being an electrical engineer. Although they did not have children, they considered the volunteers and friends as family. And those around them felt the same way.
“I first learned about Caring Collection from a newspaper article around 2006 about needing volunteers,” said volunteer Marion Kay. “I remember calling Bobbie for directions to her home studio and attending an event there. Since then, I’ve been a volunteer for over 15 years.” Kay says some of her fondest memories are when Burnett hosted parties for volunteers to get together.
The Caring Collection grew significantly through word-of-mouth but gained national recognition when they appeared on NBC Nightly News in 2011. After that, the Caring Collection angels were in high demand and featured in many articles in multiple publications.
“It took us over a year to complete the number of angels from the orders that we received that Saturday night when we were on NBC,” Burnett stated. “NBC helped us answer phones and only a dozen people of a thousand canceled. Everyone was willing to wait, whether it took six months or up to a year, they wanted the angels.” To keep up with the orders, they developed a website that allowed consumers from all over the country to order products online.
Burnett was honored as Volunteer of the Year in 2017 by Anne Arundel Medical Center. On May 9, Burnett, as well as Caring Collection, were awarded the Community Impact Award from Luminis Health of the Anne Arundel Medical Center Foundation.
As for her legacy, Burnett spoke from the heart. “I hope we have set an example of what any small group of people can do to help others, either by making angels, painting, cooking, or whatever it may be,” she said. “I think people live much happier, purposeful lives when they can get out of themselves and help others.”