Woman's giving spirit goes beyond holidays Gifts: For three years, an assistant administrator in the attorney general's office has bought presents for needy children.

December 18, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Arlene N. Gill once asked a neighbor how to make turkey soup from leftovers. Soon after she got the recipe, she and her husband were passing out turkey soup and sandwiches to the homeless around City Hall.

When their children grew up in Gwynn Oak years ago, Gill would often look out for neighbors' children after school. She expected no compensation.

And every Thursday night, Gill takes her 78-year-old mother Elsie West out to dinner or shopping.

So last week, when Gill, an assistant administrator in the attorney general's office, called Marian D. Daniel, her friend and a Department of Juvenile Justice area director, with the message, "I've wrapped the presents," nothing more needed to be said.

It was another act of kindness by Gill, the 58-year-old mother of two and grandmother of two who is once again primed and ready for Christmas.

For three years, she has watched for sales and, out of her own pocket, bought books, dolls, gloves, mittens, board games and other toys for needy children.

Come December, she wraps each gift, marks them by gender and age and puts 150 presents in gift bags for poor Baltimore children, ages 5 to 14.

"There are still children who wake up on Christmas in Baltimore and have no presents," says Gill, shaking her head.

Several years ago, she decided to do something about it. She had helped two of her sisters "adopt" poor families with presents and care during the holidays.

Then Daniel and Gill were talking one day about girls in a juvenile delinquency prevention program. A year later, at Christmas, Gill called and said she had a few gifts for "your children."

At first, Daniel didn't know what she meant; she has one son. But Gill was referring to the girls in the program.

"Surprise!" recalls Daniel. "She brought several bags full. Fifty gifts -- toys, crayons, bracelets, earmuffs, gloves. She had been buying them quietly all year."

Daniel, 57, says Gill's gifts for children in Juvenile Justice have often made the difference between a happy child and a sad one during the holidays.

Gill began giving presents to agencies that watch over poor, abused, delinquent or abandoned children. She asks the agencies to give her those who are most in need, because, as she says: "It's so important for children to have a gift at Christmas and know somebody cares."

The agencies she works with include the Police Athletic League, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Parole and Probation, Harford Heights Elementary School, Community Building in Partnership and a recreation center. Some recipients are children of teen-age mothers, who have themselves become mothers as teen-agers.

Gill gets help from her husband, Donald Gill Sr., a retired liquor salesman, and her daughter, Tiffany. But the project is mostly hers.

"I have been blessed in all aspects of my life," says Gill, who has four sisters and a brother. "We have good family and friends. We have a strong mother. We have love and support. I feel I must give back."

She says that when she was growing up, two older friends, Emma Byrd and Flora McNeil, took the time to encourage her and make her feel good. So now she tries to do the same for other young people.

She considers herself a spiritual person, but goes infrequently to church. "I try to carry church with me," she says.

Gill's hobbies are reading novels and histories and walking in her Gwynn Oak neighborhood. Books are her favorite presents for children. She believes that having books they can call their own will inspire children to read -- and make them better readers.

She knows some people consider her a rose-colored-glasses idealist. One of her nephews discouraged another nephew from telling her a story with a negative twist. "Don't bother talking with Aunt Arlene," he said. "She finds something positive about everything."

But she thinks more people are sensitive to the plight of others than is generally known. "Some are disconnected but many move past that hurdle and do something quietly."

Daniel thinks the description fits her friend. "Too often we overlook people like Arlene. She does things without wanting attention. She passed out sandwiches downtown for several years."

Most times Gill will not give the presents to the children herself. "I get too emotional. I cry. I wonder if I have done enough," she says.

But she gets her own rewards -- like the letter from an 8-year-old boy: "Thank you, Mrs. Gill. My mom works very hard but she doesn't have very much money to get what we want. Thank you."

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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