One county woman was walking 12 miles one-way to reach her job. Another had nothing in her cupboard but two boxes of macaroni. The eldestson of a third family had to quit high school to earn money for his mother and siblings.
For Churchton resident Tina Creekmore, seeingpeople in such circumstances provides more than an opportunity to extend charity. It's a chance to put her faith in God into practice.
"Christ said, 'If you do it for those in need, you do it for me,'" says Creekmore, who for three years has coordinated Centenary United Methodist Church's outreach program to needy families.
"This isGod's work," she explains. "What we do for others, we do for him, and he does bless us."
This month, Creekmore is again collecting thenames of people in her area who need help. With four children of herown, including a 4-year-old and an infant, she isn't lounging aroundlooking for social work to fill her time. But the children are an incentive to use her minutes well, says the 35-year-old.
"I'm tryingto raise my children to give to other people and accept other peopleas God's children," she says. "If I turned needy people away, how could I expect my children to care about others?"
She doesn't turn anyone away. With others at the Shady Side church, Creekmore takes food and clothing to needy families. At Thanksgiving, she helps lug hugeboxes of food, including 12-pound turkeys, to several dozen homes.
Last Christmas, she got so busy shopping for other people's children she almost didn't have time to buy gifts for her own. She always includes a Bible or Bible story-book with the presents
"The fun partwas my daughter helping me wrap presents for 60 people last year. Ittook nearly eight hours. My older son went with me to find one family. When we got there at this little shack, Josh said, 'Mom this isn'twhere they live?' "
"He was astounded," said Creekmore. "It's so good for kids to be thankful for what they have."
She juggles babyJessica in one arm, extends a loving caress to 4-year-old Ben and a friend he is playing with, and continues to talk about the incredibleneeds she finds in South County.
In one particularly touching case, a woman walked around with freezing hands, having given her glovesto a daughter who had to wait at the bus stop. The woman couldn't afford to buy herself another pair.
"I just could not believe it," says Creekmore. Then, to Jessica, "Go and get your doll, sweetheart."
She helps Ben find a toy. She fills a bottle for the baby.
Creekmore dislikes praise, pointing out others from the church and the county food bank who've helped greatly with the program. Most of all, the credit goes to God, she says.
"This (volunteer work) isn't for show," she says, pushing brown bangs out of her eyes. "You feel for people."
But neighbors heap gratitude on this woman, whom they call"everyone's friend. With four children, she still drives sick peopleto and from the doctor, or to get medicine," says Janie White of Churchton.
"Prayer is always part of her parting words with a hug, which is so needed in today's world. This lady is so patient it is wonderful to be around her and her real feelings," says White.
Creekmore's work doesn't stop with the holidays, says Bruce Michalec, director of the Anne Arundel County Food Bank.
"She and her husband (Rufus) have been known to take a family into their home, rather than seethis family go to a homeless shelter," Michalec says.
"When she calls about a family in need, I can always hear the concern in her voice. She has been known to deliver food to families in remote areas, in bad weather and adverse conditions."
The local elementary schoolrefers needy people to Creekmore, as does Michalec. She keeps a notebook with information about which families need help, who has nine children, who has no transportation, who needs a job, or silverware, ora place to spend the night.
Those whom Creekmore has helped do not forget.
"I left around 5 a.m. and got to work at 9:30 a.m.," says the 38-year-old South County woman who walked 12 miles each day to reach her job for more than six months last year. The woman, a singleparent rearing four children, later received help from Social Services, but at the time thought she had no choice.
"I had the job as amaid, and a car, and then I lost my transportation and I couldn't just give up the job. At $6 an hour, it was the best I'd ever made. Yougotta do what you have to do," she says.
"Then (Tina) gave me a lift one day. We got to talking, and at Christmastime, she showed up with all this help. She's a beautiful person inside and out."