Children Work To Give Back

Gambrills Students Fill Backpacks To Help Homeless

December 24, 2009|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,

Sixth-grader Josephe Tondreau washed clothes and cleaned sinks. First-grader John Nolte helped his mom clean the house. Fifth-grader Becky Shade's parents paid her $1 a bag to rake leaves from the family's lawn.

Nearly 800 students at the School of the Incarnation in Gambrills completed chores for their families and neighbors to earn money for charity, this year raising more than $24,000 in their effort to help Giving Back Inc., an Annapolis-based nonprofit group that delivers food, clothing, supplies and holiday cheer each Christmas Eve to homeless shelters in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County and Washington.

The parochial school has joined forces for the past four years with the 30-year-old organization Giving Back, which expects to raise about $50,000 in donations and fill 22 trucks with goods for distribution at 26 shelters, said Executive Director Steve Anstett. The school's donations pay for backpacks filled with clothes and supplies that are also distributed to homeless people on the streets.

"I call this school the perfect storm," said Anstett, wearing a Baltimore Ravens Santa hat as he stood in the school's gym, where students packed donations. "There's incredible passion from the teachers, students and families."

Sandi Dlugonski, a teacher at the School of the Incarnation, heads the effort, which well exceeded last year's $16,000 in donations, despite the economy. Dlugonski said that even though some families at the school, like families throughout the country, are struggling to make ends meet, they haven't cut back on giving. "They've been hit hard by the economy, but they've cut back on their own things to give more," Dlugonski said. "It's just unbelievable."

Dlugonski said Giving Back's mission of helping the homeless fits perfectly with the tenet of helping your neighbor, and the project has significantly touched the students, who she said "talk all year" about the backpacks.

"It's what we teach," Dlugonski said. "It's the fiber of our being. We've allowed the children to step up to the plate and say, 'This is for my community, for my neighbor.' That's the epitome of this, what these kids are learning, and that's what Christmas is all about."

Before classes broke for winter break, each wore a backpack strapped to his or her chest, with the zipper opened, ready to receive the goodies. Students made their way through the line in the gymnasium, where tables were filled with hooded sweat shirts, thermal underwear, socks and gloves. The students took one of each, and before zipping their backpacks shut, dropped in one last thing: their own homemade Christmas card.

And one by one, the backpacks were piled high, a formation the students have dubbed "Mount Backpack," ready for delivery to homeless men and women on Christmas Eve.

Anstett said the charity will reach 7,000 people in shelters and on the streets this year. In addition to the backpacks, donations include coats, boots, food supplies, and even diapers and formula for one women's shelter. Anstett, who has volunteered for the past eight years, has gotten creative, buying in bulk and going to warehouse and closeout sales. This year, he said, he got "an amazing price" on long underwear: "$4.50 for the set," he said.

Many students and their families plan to join the 100 or so volunteers who go to the shelters and the streets to distribute the backpacks and other items on Christmas Eve.

Sandra Raber, president of the school's Home and School Association, said her family, including her son Colby, now a second-grader, went to three shelters to help distribute the items last Christmas Eve morning. Colby said he mowed grass, raked leaves and even cleaned up after dogs to earn $250, which pays for about 10 backpacks.

"It was very emotional," Raber said. "It's a very eye-opening experience for the kids. That's exactly what it's all about. Some of these kids have been saving since last Christmas."

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