Holiday helpers in transition

After two decades, the founder of Giving Back is looking to pass the torch to a new leader.

December 18, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

This is the time of year when thousands of volunteers donate canned goods for the poor, wrap gifts for abused children or sign up to serve food at local soup kitchens.

But for volunteers with Giving Back Inc., this holiday season is different. They are not only collecting clothing items for the homeless but desperately seeking a new director. Linda Greenberg, who launched the group two decades ago from the family room of her Crownsville home, is moving on.

Over the years, Greenberg and her volunteers, many of them schoolchildren, have collected thousands of clothing items and backpacks for homeless men, women and children in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County. On Christmas Eve, Greenberg and her helpers load the items into U-Haul trucks and deliver them to shelters where they are doled out immediately.

"For lots of people, it makes Christmas," said Michael Brown, executive director of Prisoners Aid Association of Baltimore, one of the shelters that works with Greenberg. "We are a surrogate family for many of our clients, and without these gifts, some of them would receive nothing."

Greenberg, who also helps deliver the items, has witnessed hundreds of times over the situation Brown described. She knows that the service her volunteers provide is much-needed. That's why, she says, she'd rather find someone to replace her than shutter the annual drive for good.

"This has been going on for 21 years, and it's time to let other people take the reins," said Greenberg, who also hosts an afternoon talk show on radio station WNAV in Annapolis and raises exotic animals. "It's been a huge part of my life, but it needs to have younger blood now that it has become so huge."

Last year, Giving Back volunteers collected 1,100 backpacks filled with toiletries, long underwear, socks, gloves and work boots, and needed 17 trucks to deliver the goods. The collection effort kicks off each year on Dec. 20, when volunteers and rental trucks take over the Anne Arundel County Farmers' Market in Annapolis, and moves into the sorting phase Dec. 23 and 24.

"It's a massive operation," said Ellen Kinsella, a Millersville resident who has worked with Greenberg. "We served 31 shelters last year."

Kinsella, like many Giving Back volunteers, knows that Greenberg, a Pittsburgh native, started giving young. The story, which Greenberg gladly shares with newcomers, goes like this: She was visiting Washington with her family when her mother told her to give her coat, hat and scarf to a homeless man.

"My mother said, `He needs them more than you do,'" Greenberg recalled recently. "And so I put them on him and it made such a profound effect on my life because it was the first time that I was really cold. It had a big impact on my life."

Thanks to Greenberg's dedication, the volunteer effort is bigger than ever, said Steve Anstett, a Severna Park resident and Giving Back volunteer who is helping Greenberg find a replacement. He said he won't rest until they find the right person for the job.

"It's too important to let drop," Anstett said. "We won't let it die."

Information: www.homeless drive.com.

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