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Campus Staff, Osher Students, Collect Gifts, Food and Money During Holidays

Students Receive Gifts

The spirit of the holiday season was in the air at the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus.

Campus staff served as elves, fulfilling the holiday gift wishes of students attending the John L. Gildner Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents, or RICA.

Osher members made sure bellies were full by donating 637 pounds of food, along with nearly $7,000, to the Manna Food Center.

Working together, the campus community touched hundreds, if not thousands, of lives in Montgomery County during this holiday season.

For more than 15 years, staff members at the campus have banded together to buy gifts for RICA students. RICA is located next door to the campus. It is a special education school for students with emotional disabilities, autism, specific learning disabilities and other health issues. RICA provides day and residential treatment programs.

Each year, campus staff members eagerly await the arrival of the RICA wish list, said Paula Kramer, the campus administrative coordinator who organizes the gift drive.

“We have granted the wishes of every single child on our list for all of those years, and it gives great satisfaction to those of us who sign up for a child, or children, to be able to fulfill their requests,” Kramer said. “In most cases they ask for so little, sometimes just the bare necessities, and to bring a smile to each child’s face, regardless of what they ask for, makes us feel as good as they do.”

This holiday season, many of the students were teens who asked for items such as shirts, watches, belts, pants and gift certificates to movie theaters and clothing stores.

Some students come from families that don’t have the financial resources to provide their children with gifts during the holiday season.

The wish list is forwarded to Kramer, who coordinates the initiative for the Johns Hopkins staff.

“JLG-RICA students and staff are overwhelmed by the generosity of the staff at Johns Hopkins University year after year,” said Marlayna Proctor, director, community resources and development at RICA. “Each gift is wrapped with warm wishes that brighten up the holidays for each of the students they sponsor each year. Thank you for caring about the children at JLG-RICA.”

Also on campus, members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute collected food and money for Manna Food Center. Osher, part of Advanced Academic Programs within the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, offers noncredit classes for retired and semi-retired adults.

Manna Food Center, the main food bank in Montgomery County, feeds about 40,000 people annually and collects and distributes more than 4 million pounds of food a year to qualifying families. Osher members donated pasta, cereal, spaghetti, peanut butter and other boxed and canned food, in addition to money.

“The funds we receive from Osher members support daily food distribution, help keep our trucks on the road and purchase food for children who may otherwise miss meals over the weekend,” said Mark Foraker, director of development and communications at Manna. “The food we collect from the community goes directly to people who are experiencing hunger.”

Osher at JHU initially launched the food drive in support of Manna in 2008 when a member read news accounts about the impact of the economic downturn on the needy in Montgomery County. Osher members realized they had the means to help others in the community. Today, the effort is spearheaded by Osher member Gordon Fields.

“In the last couple of years, we have emphasized monetary contributions in addition to, or in lieu of, in-kind food collections as Manna can leverage each dollar contributed into $3 to $5 worth of food stuffs,” Gordon said. “As a result, Osher students have responded generously with their checks as well as food.

“Every year, our members begin asking about the food drive weeks before it starts, wanting to make sure we continue this tradition,” Fields continued. “Most members are grandparents, and the thought that some children might not have enough food to eat, that their parents don’t have the means to provide healthy meals and that the elderly may not be getting proper nutrition are all prime motivators in our Osher community. Osher members feel privileged to be able to help those in need in Montgomery County.”

The need is strong, Foraker said. Though Montgomery County is generally considered well off and is ranked among the most affluent counties in the country, the wealth is not evenly distributed, he said. Some estimates, he said, show that more that between 72,000 and 82,000 people in Montgomery County experience hunger and food insecurity.

“We continue to see a rise in need every year,” Foraker said, “and we hope that someday soo we can see the trend start to reverse.”

CATEGORY: In The Community