The woman who came up with the idea — suggesting that a very large member of the Baltimore Ravens might hand off some XXXL clothing to a very large Towson University student who can't afford to buy his own — wishes to remain anonymous, and that's fine. Under the principles of her Jewish faith, such deeds are best if performed secretly, or at least quietly.
So we'll call her Ruth, and leave it at that.
Two years ago, Ruth and her husband started supporting a teenage boy from Middle River named Andrew Nagengast. She had heard about Andrew from a Baltimore County high school teacher; his name came up in a conversation about the Great Recession's effect on students and their families.
"Oh, Ruth," the teacher had said, "I have kids who are living in their cars."
Andrew Nagengast was not one of them, but he certainly was from a struggling family. His mother, a single parent, had been laid off from her warehouse job and had been unable to find full-time work. Despite that hardship, Andrew was about to finish a great senior year at Kenwood High School; he'd been involved in student activities and assisted teachers as never before. "I wanted to leave my mark on my school," he says.
In May of 2009, Andrew was voted winner of an annual ethics award given by the Baltimore County Public Schools.
"He had been selected the most virtuous student at Kenwood," Ruth says. "His teacher told me that she and a colleague were trying to get some clothing for him to wear to the awards ceremony."
What made that a challenge was Andrew's size — he's 6-foot-8 and well over 300 pounds.
"He mostly wore T-shirts and sweat pants," Ruth says. "He couldn't afford anything else that would fit him."
So Ruth paid for a new suit for Andrew Nagengast. He wore it to receive his ethics award. He wore it to receive an award for outstanding achievement in graphic arts. He decided to attend his senior prom because of the suit.
Ruth and her husband were so taken with Andrew that they paid for two years of studies at Essex Community College. He did so well at Essex that he's now enrolled at Towson University. He thinks he'll pull a 3.2 GPA for his first semester. Ruth and her husband pay the rent on a Towson apartment while Andrew, now 20, pursues a degree in graphic arts.
He's a big-shouldered, soft-spoken young man with blond hair and a beard. And he's hugely grateful to the Kenwood teachers who supported him and to Ruth and her husband. Without their encouragement, he says, he'd be on another path today. "I was considering careers at Royal Farms," he says, "and that's not the right place for me. You can't do much with just a high school diploma."
So he's at Towson, on grants and loans.
But his wardrobe is still limited. When I saw him the other night, Andrew was wearing gym shorts and a T. "This is pretty much what I have," he says.
And then his benefactor got an idea.
Ruth noticed that Bryant McKinnie, the left tackle of the Ravens, is 6-foot-8 and 360 pounds. She wondered if the veteran "blind side" blocker, in his first season with Baltimore, could spare some hand-me-down clothes for a younger man of the same stature.
So we made an inquiry through the Ravens front office, and, upon hearing the story from public relations coordinator Tom Valente, Bryant McKinnie responded — with a custom-made suit, two sport coats, a wool sweater, six pair of jeans, five dress shirts, five neckties and a belt.
"It was a similar situation for me growing up," Mr. McKinnie said of big men's sartorial struggles. "It was always kind of hard to find stuff your size, so to be able to do something like that for somebody else, that makes me feel good, because I can relate. I know what a struggle that can be, because I was always in a similar situation.
"My mom was able to find stuff for me somehow, but we had to do a lot of research. ... And you still want nice things as a big guy, so you try to find out what stores are best or what's even available to you. But things were also a bit more expensive when you're looking at those sizes, so I can relate to dealing with that. ... It just feels good to be able to do something like that for Andrew."
Ruth picked up the donation at the Ravens headquarters in Owings Mills on Wednesday. It was a big surprise for Andrew — a Hanukkah-Christmas gift he'll never forget.
Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is host of the daily Midday show on WYPR-FM. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.