Little in years, big in heart On a mission: Fifth-grader, inspired by Baltimore's Bea Gaddy, collects food and clothing to help the needy.

November 15, 1995|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Bea Gaddy looked at the 10-year-old Manchester Elementary School girl who was asking for food donations outside a Carroll County grocery store last week and said she had flashbacks of herself many years ago.

Ms. Gaddy, 62, recalled pulling a trash can outfitted with makeshift wheels along East Baltimore streets, begging for food to feed herself and her hungry neighbors.

From that humble beginning emerged Ms. Gaddy's Patterson Park Emergency Food Center Inc. on North Collington Avenue in Baltimore. Ms. Gaddy has been feeding the poor and housing the homeless since 1981 when, in her own words, she became a "professional beggar."

For fifth-grader Jamie Ridgely of Manchester, Bea Gaddy became an instant idol when Jamie saw her featured on local and national television two years ago for coordinating her annual Thanksgiving Day dinners -- turkey and all the trimmings -- for nearly 20,000.

"I want to do just what Bea Gaddy does when I grow up," said Jamie, who approached her parents, Bryan and Sharon Ridgely, last summer with a plan she called "Help Feed a Child in Need."

Last month, Ms. Gaddy read that Jamie had pulled a little red wagon with squeaky wheels around her rural neighborhoods, collecting nearly 1,000 nonperish- able food items for distribution at Carroll County's Food Sunday.

To each person who donated, Jamie gave a homemade pin inscribed, "I helped to feed a child in need."

After taking two weeks off -- a rest period ordered by her mother so that Jamie "could have time to play," Jamie collected coats, hats and mittens. About a dozen large boxes and trash bags filled with mostly new clothing were stored temporarily in front of the fireplace in the Ridgelys' living room. They were picked up for distribution last week by Neighbors in Need.

"We didn't have time to count how many coats were there," Mrs. Ridgely said.

Donors received Jamie's homemade pins with the words "I helped to warm a child's heart" or one of 100 computer-generated, 10-page children's activity books she created. To those, she stapled a plastic bag with crayons, which were donated by area merchants.

Jamie did all the work herself and spent her own money to buy the materials, her mother said.

Saturday, Jamie kicked off her latest project.

"I want to help give Thanksgiving dinner to at least 80 families," she said.

Tom Canon, director of Carroll County Food Sunday, said he still had 291 families who won't have Thanksgiving dinner, Mrs. Ridgely said.

That goal prompted Ms. Gaddy and five volunteers to drive 35 miles northwest from Baltimore Saturday to stand outside Miller's Market on Main Street in Manchester to support the little girl who wants to make a difference for the needy of Carroll County.

Customers at Miller's Market donated about 300 canned items and $107, which Jamie turned over to Food Sunday.

Ms. Gaddy promised Jamie that she would have more than 200 uncooked birds -- turkeys or chickens -- delivered Nov. 23 for the Neighbors in Need program dubbed Adopt-a-Family for Thanksgiving.

"Bea Gaddy is really a great lady," said Sharon Ridgely. "She arrived 20 minutes early, was hugging everybody and had two large boxes of canned goods for Jamie.

Ms. Gaddy and Jamie also exchanged gifts. Ms. Gaddy brought woolen mittens for Jamie and her mother, and Jamie presented a gold cross to Ms. Gaddy.

Jamie also told Ms. Gaddy, "It would be great if the hungry and the homeless would only be [someone to read about] in history books," Jamie said.

After the Thanksgiving holiday, Jamie said, she will begin collecting new toys for needy children. She asked that anyone wishing to help write her at P.O. Box 589, Manchester 21102.

Jamie said she is not seeking used toys.

"I'm a kid, and I wouldn't like to receive used toys on Christmas, so I'm only asking for new ones," she said.

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