Young teen is a veteran of holiday giving

North Carroll student has been collecting for needy since age of 9

November 08, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

At 14, Jamie Ridgely has five years of experience raising money for charity, and she knows fall is her busiest season.

"I have done this since I was 9, and I enjoy it so much, it is just routine," said Jamie, whose home in Manchester is filling with canned goods. "For Christmas, I collect toys; for Thanksgiving, I collect food."

She also is running a raffle to fill any gaps in what she has not received. Weekends find the North Carroll High School freshman at area shopping centers, asking for donations and selling chances on a Millennium Barbie or Furby -- both expected to be hot items this season.

The teen-ager, often reluctant to talk about herself, is tireless in her efforts to help those in need.

"When I was younger, I was shyer. I am not as shy now. I ask," she said. "If they donate, great. If not, then maybe next time."

Each year, she has found greater numbers of donors. She provided Thanksgiving dinner -- turkey and trimmings -- for 50 families last year. This year, she is confidently working toward her goal: dinner for 75. Thanks to a $1,000 gift from the Westminster Wal-Mart, her 1999 campaign is off to an auspicious start.

Wal-Mart made the money available for a project that qualified for Make a Difference Day, sponsored by Parade magazine.

"Jamie was the first person who came to mind," said store manager L. J. Thomas. "She has certainly done a lot for the residents of Carroll County."

Thomas had read several articles about Jamie in local newspapers, and he met her last year when she collected donations in front of the store, with his permission.

A television ad about starving children started the first drive, in her neighborhood and at Manchester Elementary, where she was in fifth grade.

"Children being hungry bothered me," she said. "I wanted to do something."

That drive finished with more than 1,000 cans of food. Each pupil who donated received a pin made by Jamie. It read, "I helped feed a child in need."

"I made more than 400 pins," she said.

She has progressed from going through the neighborhood with her little red wagon to collecting at elementary schools throughout the county -- thanks to chauffeuring provided by her parents, Sharon and Bryan Ridgely.

She puts out fliers announcing the campaign early and stakes out collection spots, where she asks for donations of food or money. Then she starts packing bags with boxes of instant potatoes, canned yams, sauerkraut, green beans, corn "and any extras I have on hand." Each bag also contains a coupon for a turkey, redeemable at Carroll County Food Sunday, which will distribute the bags and frozen turkeys the week of Nov. 15.

"Jamie's work allows us to go into the winter season with a cushion, because we don't have to provide for as many people at Thanksgiving," said Dave Hegarty, chairman of Food Sunday, which usually fills about 500 requests for the holiday meal.

"She is just a bundle of energy," said Hegarty. "We never have to direct her. We just try to keep up with her."

Jamie rarely meets the people she has helped. But last year a man gave her $10 and told her why.

"He said that I had helped him out when he needed it, and now it was his turn to give back," she said.

Information: 410-239-3953.

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