A grateful outreach

Holidays: Howard's religious communities are celebrating special days by sharing, whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah.

November 22, 2001|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In a holiday season that traditionally begins with gratitude at Thanksgiving and ends with gift-giving at Christmas and Hanukkah, religious communities in Howard County are sponsoring outreach projects that demonstrate both impulses.

"Especially this year, I think it's time to be thankful for everything we have and to help others," said John Fiorello of Ellicott City, whose family is among the 350 from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City who assembled food baskets delivered last week to families in Howard County and Baltimore.

Maureen Rochelle, who coordinates the church's volunteer program, said that 141 parishioners delivered the makings of a Thanksgiving dinner to those in Howard County who asked for help. Volunteer language interpreters were available for the deliveries, she said.

Another 200 church members took home cardboard boxes that had been donated by a moving company and filled them with food from a list provided by Rochelle.

They returned the boxes to the church and stacked them near the altar during weekend Masses.

"They put in the neatest things extra - tablecloths, candles," said Rochelle. "And their kids [made] decorations and candy and all kinds of things to make it special." The boxes went to two sister parishes in Baltimore.

After eating their Thanksgiving dinners today, members of the church's volunteer committee will enlist their families to work on the next project: 1,500 Christmas tags, each with a gift request from a local charity's wish list.

The tags will decorate the parish Christmas tree until parishioners claim them, buy the items listed and return the gifts to the church for distribution.

At Church of the Resurrection Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City, children in the religious classes prepared Thanksgiving boxes, said Linda Keedy, coordinator of religious education.

The youngsters decided on a menu, collected money, wrote messages to the recipients, decorated the boxes, packed them with food and sent them to the church's food pantry for families in need.

This is an "opportunity for the children to begin to learn the beginnings of a life of service," Keedy said.

On Saturday at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, church members assembled unconventional Thanksgiving boxes for Howard County's foreign-born families, some of whom will be celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time.

"It's not like we put a turkey in there," said Deacon Bill Pickard, one of the coordinators of the outreach effort. "We try to be sensitive to things that some people from some cultures wouldn't eat."

Volunteers moved briskly and purposefully as they sorted beans, rice, cans of coffee, chili powder, curry, cinnamon, soy sauce, red pepper and other items that were packed into more than 50 large green or blue plastic storage tubs. The tubs were given that afternoon to families who had been referred to the church by Columbia's Foreign-born Information and Referral Network.

Miles Smith, a deacon and co-coordinator of the project, said that the church included a $40 certificate to Giant Food and a New Testament in each gift tub.

"It's just a great feeling to be able to help, especially at this time of year when we're so thankful," said Smith.

Rather than food, the congregation of Beth Shalom synagogue in Columbia has collected more than 75 "gently worn" coats, as well as hats, gloves and scarves this month. The coats are cleaned by professional dry cleaners from the congregation, said Phyllis Sosnick, chairwoman of the social action committee.

Public school teachers from the congregation distribute the winter clothing to children at their schools who need them. Adult coats are distributed through the Howard County Christian Women's Thrift Shop.

Next month, Beth Shalom will promote a "Toys for Tots" drive that will provide gift-wrapped Christmas and Hanukkah presents for children at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. Tomorrow night, members of Columbia Jewish Congregation will take nonperishable food to services. The food will stock the pantry that the congregation operates at Oakland Mills Interfaith Center.

Rabbi Sonya Starr said that her Friday sermon will be about gratitude. "Often, we get too busy [and] forget to say `thank you,' either to God or our families, friends or co-workers," she said. "Thanksgiving, if done right, will be a reminder ... for the rest of the year that we have much to be thankful for."

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