For most Marylanders, November is the time to start planning holiday extravaganzas. A Thanksgiving feast with family or friends, a New Year’s Eve party to welcome 2024 in style, or one of the many religious traditions that will be celebrated into early January. Gifts will be purchased, along with lots of food and drinks.
As we make our lists and check them at least twice, it’s important to remember our neighbors who may face these celebratory weeks with dread, stress or even fear.
In an April 2022 interview, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman told Channel 2 WMAR Baltimore that more than 300 homeless individuals reside in our county. In that same news segment, Housing Commission of Anne Arundel County CEO Clif Martin stated that more than 30,000 families were waiting for rental assistance or Section 8 housing. For thousands of people in Anne Arundel County, there will be no home for the holidays.
Many people with housing may not have adequate food. The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life. A 2021 Map the Meal Gap survey by Feeding America, conducted through corporate funding, determined that 47,260 people living in Anne Arundel County lacked proper nutrition.
Additionally, in a 2021 survey by Cambridge Semantics (www.welfareinfo.org) nearly 6% of Anne Arundel County residents live in poverty. Though below the national average of nearly 13% — and 10.3% in Maryland — 33,476 Anne Arundel County residents live in poverty.
Whether someone is lacking proper housing, nutrition or financial stability, the winter months are hardly the most wonderful time of the year.
Thankfully, generosity abounds in Anne Arundel County. Organizations like Giving Back: Linda’s Legacy, Severna Park Assistance Network (SPAN) and Asbury Church Assistance Network Inc. (ACAN), to name a few, are addressing community needs. These volunteer-run organizations need assistance more than ever to make the holidays a little brighter for our less-fortunate neighbors. Whether you can donate your time, food and material items, gift cards or cash, there are many opportunities for you, your family, groups or businesses to assist right here in our area.
Jeanette Middleton Sudano, Giving Back: Linda’s Legacy’s executive director since 2015, said that looking at human crises globally can be overwhelming, however, “if everybody does their part in small, loving and intentional actions, the collective impact will positively help a lot of people.”
Giving Back: Linda’s Legacy
Since 2003, Linda’s Legacy has organized a large-scale drive for homeless individuals and families in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. Clothing and toiletry donations are collected throughout November and December and delivered to shelters on Christmas Eve and in the days immediately before Christmas.
The effort is massive. Middleton Sudano estimates that more than 600 volunteers will help 9,000 people this year.
“Every year, I wonder how we will be able to pull this off, and every year with the help of God, our volunteers do it,” Middleton Sudano said. “God provides. He always does.”
Schools, businesses, individuals and families all get involved. Schools like Severna Park Middle School, Severn School and School of the Incarnation – among numerous others – stuff the 3,000 backpacks needed for shelter deliveries or host coat and toiletry drives. Families, clubs and organizations like Girl Scouts bake cakes and decorate cookies to drop off at shelters.
“We have tremendous need for volunteers of all ages, from individuals, families and companies,” Middleton Sudano said. “And I am grateful for every single one. Volunteering together as a family or group is especially rewarding.”
How You Can Help
Visit www.homelessdrive.org for the full list of volunteer opportunities, or send a message via the “Contact Us” feature on the homepage.
SPAN is synonymous with support in Severna Park. Its food pantry is open year-round. When the calendar flips to November, SPAN’s signature seasonal event, the Holiday Caring program works harder than Santa’s elves. SPAN donors sponsor a family in need by providing the financial means or food to create a full holiday meal. If sponsoring a family, donors will receive the ages and sizes of the children to provide Christmas gifts and warm clothes.
“The most significant way that people can support the program is to sign up to sponsor a family for a grocery gift card and or Christmas gifts for kids in need,” said Maia Grabau, SPAN’s director of operations.
Grabau added that sponsors provide $50 to $75 grocery gift cards for Thanksgiving or Christmas and gifts for kids as well. Gifts for children should be approximately $50 per child.
How You Can Help
Contact SPAN at 410-647-0899 or email@example.com for more information or to get involved.
Asbury Church Assistance Network, located at 429 Asbury Drive in Severna Park, has been helping people for decades. The organization offers a unique “drive thru” food pantry where qualified individuals will receive prepackaged food boxes of dried and canned goods, fresh vegetables, dairy and meat. ACAN also offers a baby pantry, personal hygiene items, and when possible, home delivery. ACAN plans to provide 400 Thanksgiving meals, and support dozens of families with gifts and food for Christmas.
Peggy Wilson is the executive director for ACAN.
“We’ve seen a 20% increase in the number of people coming during the week for food,” said Wilson, who also commented that her phone is flooded with people needing holiday assistance. “I cannot even tell you how many people we will help over Christmas yet, but the need is great and only getting greater.”
Wilson explained that ACAN will serve approximately 80 cars a day on the three weekdays the food pantry is open, totaling 240 cars a week. Each car represents an average family size of five or six people, which equals approximately 1,300 Anne Arundel County residents each week.
How You Can Help
Contact Peggy Wilson at 410-647-7667 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to get involved.
Other Ways to Help
If you or your family are looking for other ways to help your less-fortunate neighbors, here are other options to consider.
Get creative. Remember, small acts of kindness add up to a big impact. This year, share your family’s good fortune with others and make the season of giving a new family tradition.