Taking Care of Our Own in the Midst of a Pandemic
Nonprofits work diligently to provide the necessities.
Writer: Carol Harvet
C.S. Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity”: “If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”
Here in Southern Maryland, hundreds of people take this message to heart through volunteering and giving donations to nonprofits that assist our community. Due to the pandemic, the number of local families in need of necessities has increased, and nonprofits work hard to keep up with the demand.
TAKING CARE OF OUR CHILDREN
The Charles County Children’s Aid Society, founded in 1934 by women who recognized a local need, assists families with basic life necessities. Programs include food and clothing assistance, school supplies, Easter and Thanksgiving food baskets, and a countywide Christmas toy distribution.
Due to restrictions on social gatherings this past year, the nonprofit had to cancel its October fundraiser.
While businesses have generously supported programs over the years, Executive Director Danielle Wilmoth says it might be difficult for some businesses that lost income to offer donations.
“We’ll be relying on our churches and individual donors this year,” she says.
The nonprofit has continued with its mission of helping families in need but altered their processes to avoid personal contact. In August, about 1,500 book bags packed with school supplies were distributed to Charles County students, and Wilmoth says she has seen the increase of families that need help.
Children’s Aid Society has worked on the logistics to ensure that its weeklong Christmas toy program will happen in December.
“It’s the biggest Charles County toy program with the Department of Social Services,” Wilmoth says, adding, “I am committed to getting the toys out to the families.” Collection boxes for new toys are placed at local churches and in about 50 businesses.
“We’ve always been very blessed with community support,” she says.
A PLACE TO LAY ONE’S HEAD
Most people take having a comfortable bed for granted, while some disadvantaged children may not know what it’s like to have their own bed, pillow and clean sheets. Last winter, Deborah Faller heard a news segment about the nonprofit, Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
“As soon as I saw it, I said, ‘We’re doing this.’” Her husband Gary was on board, and they started the sixth chapter in Maryland in January. They began rallying volunteers to make beds, collect funds and find children who did not have a bed.
With monetary donations from businesses and citizens, both the Mechanicsville Optimist Club and the Lexington Park Lions Club agreed to help build beds, as did local youth groups and school personnel.
“Mostly, we’ve had community builds,” Faller says. In September, volunteers from the Lexington Park Lions Club helped Sleep in Heavenly Peace participate in a “Bunks Across America” event, a day when every chapter builds beds.
Faller, who worked for St. Mary’s County Public Schools, says she receives referrals for beds from the school system and St. Mary’s County Department of Social Services. Sleep in Heavenly Peace has given away more than 100 beds in St. Mary’s and southern Calvert.
“There’s so many wonderful people that I have met, and they’ve helped,” Faller says.
The tri-county area has nonprofits, such as Three Oaks Center in Lexington Park, which provide emergency and transitional housing and programs directed toward preventing homelessness. They provide food and rental assistance along with daily living support services.
In Charles County, LifeStyles of Maryland offers similar programs and operates two domestic violence victims’ shelters, one men’s shelter and a new shelter recently opened. New COVID-19 protocols have been put in place, which only allow shelters to be at half capacity, and major sanitizing is constant.
“It’s been a big extra cost and a burden,” says LifeStyles Executive Director Sandy Washington.
Although each county has homeless shelters, they normally remain full. To house the overflow in the winter, LifeStyles initiated Safe Nights in Charles County 15 years ago, which offers overnight stays in churches for one week at a time from October through March.
“Some churches are not comfortable with Safe Nights this year due to the virus,” Washington says. She hopes to acquire more churches to have shelters running through mid-April, and she is pleased to say a few hotels have offered rooms.
Safe Nights of Calvert County, a separate nonprofit for 14 years, currently has Crossroads Christian Church in St. Leonard agreeing to host Safe Nights from Jan. 3 through February. Chris Halt, president of the board of directors, says they are planning under the directions of the Centers for Disease Control and Maryland Department of Health officials.
“We are working to have less physical contact and to keep guests and volunteers safe,” she says.
Instead of rotating churches and having the homeless guests move around each week to a different church, this winter volunteers will rotate from Calvert churches to assist at Crossroads.
“The season will look very different this year, but God always provides,” Halt says.
Also, to lessen contact, boxed meals will be offered instead of volunteers cooking family-style meals.
“We will still draw our volunteers from all churches,” says Gwen Haigwood, Safe Nights of Calvert County board member.
MEALS FOR THE HUNGRY
Since March, food pantry traffic has increased dramatically, and LifeStyles’ Washington says she expects the need to continue this winter.
Since the pandemic, eight food cabanas around Charles County opened to make it easier to access bagged groceries. LifeStyles is like a clearinghouse for all three counties — supplying food, including Thanksgiving food baskets. Washington ordered 16,000 turkeys and will distribute them to organizations and nonprofits that provide food at Thanksgiving.
In Calvert, SMILE Inc. in Lusby, hands out about 400 Thanksgiving turkeys along with dry and canned goods that are distributed at St. Paul United Methodist Church. At Christmas time, a full dinner is served at the American Legion Post 274 for anyone who would like to join. However, this year the dinner is contingent on COVID-19 mandates, says Debi Jagodzinski, a 25-year SMILE volunteer.
SMILE, which stands for Service Makes Individual Lives Exciting, is an ecumenical community outreach ministry with more than 150 volunteers from Calvert’s churches.
Sally Hamilton, whose mother helped start the nonprofit in 1991, coordinates food distributions and the thrift store. Proceeds from the thrift store at SMILE purchase food for those in need.
“Every single penny goes back to help the community. There’s not one single paid person here,” says Jagodzinski, who has seen a big increase in the need for food since COVID-19 hit. “It’s your neighbor; it’s happening to everyone.”
“We’re very blessed that the community has responded the way they have,” she says of all the faithful volunteers at SMILE.
Several other food distribution nonprofits, such as End Hunger in Charles County, End Hunger in Calvert County, Feed St. Mary’s, Farming 4 Hunger and churches all supply nourishment to their communities. While many folks in the region have struggled to get by this past year, other Southern Marylanders continued in prosperity.
For those fortunate ones, consider gifting your time and resources this holiday season to local nonprofits that diligently work in the background to ensure that everyone’s essential needs are met. Giving a gift is always a blessing. •