About eight Naval Academy midshipmen wandered helplessly around an Arnold grocery store last week, clutching a large coffee can stuffed with money.
The shoppers were part of the academy's food drive for Thanksgiving boxes, for which the midshipmen themselves collected money and shopped.
After watching their anxiety, a store manager called the academy.The men need help, he told Mary Torrese, the academy's project coordinator. Can you send somebody?
Torrese, who is supervising the annual Thanksgiving charity project, arrived to find the fellows earnestly comparing prices on canned pumpkin and shaking their coffee can sothe small change jingled.
"We have $360 dollars, ma'am," they told her proudly, then promptly walked off, leaving their horde unattended in a shopping cart.
Torrese gently suggested they might want tohang onto the can and helped shepherd the young men through the intricacies of shopping for the needy.
Sunday evening, the midshipmen were among dozens of academy students and workers who presented nearly 1,000 boxes of food to charity in a ceremony at the Main Chapel.
The midshipmen met in the back of the chapel and followed a bagpipe band to the altar, the bagpipe because it is the musical instrument used during wartime. "And this is a war on hunger," says Torrese.
Representatives of about a dozen organizations, including the Salvation Army and the Lighthouse Shelter, attended the event to pick up the boxes of food.
In addition to providing food for homeless sheltersand other charitable groups, the academy is helping out another 30 families referred by the Department on Aging, Torrese says.
"The outpouring of giving has been stupendous," she says. "We've had hotels bringing in baskets, and all divisions of the Naval Academy.
"We got stuff from people working in the laundry here, and food services, not just midshipmen," she says. "Everybody gave. The people in supplyhave gone out of their way to help. One person brought a basket shaped like a turkey."
Several county grocery stores also gave the midshipmen discounts and extra items for the boxes.
Torrese has been trying to arouse interest in the giving project for weeks, recently borrowing a pet turkey to walk it around the academy grounds.
"The mids were saying, 'We've never seen a real turkey before. You're not gonna cook it, are you, ma'am?' "
Until recently, the Naval Academy celebrated Thanksgiving by holding an ecumenical dinner for the students. About three years ago, someone suggested the school should give, rather than get.
That first year, the academy collected 189 boxes of food -- each filled with all the goodies for a Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, the number had jumped to 600, and this year, everyonepitched in to pack nearly 1,000 boxes.
Torrese handed out a Thanksgiving menu of traditional food to give the midshipmen a buying guide: stuffing, cranberry sauce, everything needed to make a full meal.
Added to each of the boxes was a $15 gift certificate that the recipient's family could use to buy a turkey or other favorite meat. After having someone donate a dead turkey, feathers and all, two years ago, Torrese wasn't taking any chances.
"I thought, 'What am I going to do with it?' So we came up with the certificate idea," she says.
For Torrese, and everyone who donated food and money, the day after tomorrow will be extra special, she says. "One mid came up to me and said, 'I'm going to feel so good on Thanksgiving. It really is more blessed to give.' "