Needy families get just what they want

November 25, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

People around the county have searched their cupboards this holiday season, guessing what items might be useful to families in need.

Northwest Middle School students simply asked them and eliminated the guesswork.

"The little kids wanted Doritos and nacho cheese [for Thanksgiving dinner]," said Erin Stromberg, a member of the committee that is coordinating the school's fourth "Adopt-A-Family" holiday project. "The elderly couple couldn't decide if they wanted apple pie or pumpkin pie, so we got them both."

Nine eighth-grade students and their home economics teacher, Kathy Barker, have shopped for and collected items requested for Thanksgiving dinner by the two families -- an elderly couple and a single mother with two children -- in the project.

"We requested [recipients in] Taneytown," said Ms. Barker, a Washington County resident. "We have a big need here in Taneytown."

Unlike most school donation projects, Ms. Barker said, the school has tailored the drive to both the needs and wants of the families, who were designated by the county Department of Social Services as needing help this winter.

The students made a list of what their "adoptees" wanted, then set about collecting those items from the student body and the Taneytown community.

"The children just go home and tell their parents about this," Ms. Barker said. "They also talk to their friends to try to get them to bring in some of the things the families need."

By word of mouth, the school's mission spread. Schoolwide bake sales, candy drives and a raffle based on how many candies were in a jar were just the beginning.

A fund-raising competition between the three grades will get under way after Thanksgiving, Ms. Barker said.

"The grade that raises the most money will get something extra for their holiday party, like sodas or something," Ms. Barker said.

The students also collected money from parents attending the school's honors reception, which was held Tuesday, said committee member Dana Miller, 12.

Parents and other community members have gotten involved, Ms. Barker said.

Committee member Amy Burrier's mother has collected more than $20 in donations from people who visit her convenience store in Detour, Ms. Barker said.

"For the elderly couple, Kory [Jenkins, another committee member] and his dad are going to try to hang curtains," Ms. Barker said. "Another parent in the community called in to see if we would like her to donate a turkey."

The committee played a big role in organizing the distribution and acquisition of goods. It broke up into teams responsible for the items given to each family.

Within the teams, pairs or individuals are assigned the task of choosing Christmas gifts or food items specifically requested.

Kory and his friend Bobby Kerfoot have responsibility for one girl. "Me and Bobby are shopping for the [elementary school-age] girl," Kory said. "She's a tomboy."

The single mother and her children need utility items for the winter as well, Ms. Barker said. Both children need jackets.

"They [the family] wanted us to get them for Christmas, but a good jacket will cost about $60 and we don't have that," Ms. Barker said. "We called the Salvation Army, and they're probably looking, but they haven't gotten back to us yet."

"She'd like a sports jacket," Kory interjected on behalf of the tomboy.

"Yes, a sports jacket would be ideal, but keeping her warm is important, too," Ms. Barker told him.

Throughout the semester-long project, the students have been careful to consider the adopted families' feelings by respecting their privacy and not identifying them, Ms. Barker said.

One student remarked that the single mother's children might be ostracized by other children if they discovered the family was getting help for the holidays.

"That's what's so amazing about this group," Ms. Barker said of her committee. "They are attuned to people. They are sensitive to people's feelings and privacy. They are just very attuned to their [the adopted families'] needs."

The significance of the project is not lost on the committee. The student members understand the responsibility they have taken on, and all of them agreed that dinner and gifts are much too important a part of the holidays -- especially Christmas -- for anyone to go without.

"It's important for them to have food and things," said Dana. "And [the single mother] has kids, and maybe if they see other kids getting things for Christmas and they don't, they may get upset."

"They're young," Kory added. "They probably still believe in Santa Claus."

"You never know if something like this is going to happen to you," said Amanda Long, 13. "So, if you help people in trouble, maybe there will be someone out there to help you if you need it."

A blank expression passed over Bobby Kerfoot's face when he was asked why he participated. But he soon realized the answer wasn't very complicated.

"I guess I joined because I like helping people," he said.

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