Local Lions take the lead in packaging Christmas cheer

WORTON — The wonder and awe of the holiday season took on a different meaning on Monday for first-time volunteers with the Lions clubs of Kent County-sponsored Christmas Basket program.

“I knew they did this, just not this many,” Kent County High School freshman Jayla Lewis said as she helped pack boxes of non-perishable food items.

KCHS sophomore Grace Gerstung had a similar reaction.

“I’m surprised by the need,” she said.

Lewis and Gerstung were among the roughly 20 members of the high school’s Interact club that spent Monday morning in the Kent County Community Center gym boxing up food and toys for Kent County families that need help.

Other volunteers included the senior class of Chestertown Christian Academy, members of all five Lions clubs in the county, Washington College athletes and Department of Social Services staff.

About 460 households totaling 1,500 people will benefit from the generosity of others this holiday season, according to Debbie Conner of the Galena Lions Club, who “ran the floor” for the second year in a row.

Of the 1,500 people, 480 are children, according to program officials.

Each household will receive at least two boxes; larger families receive four boxes.

Conner has been involved in the program for many years, but this was her first behind the scenes heading up operations after the retirement of longtime volunteer executive director Robyn Moore.

She said she keeps coming back “because I care about people. I worry about people not having food and being homeless.”

Terry Rabinowitz, King Lion of the Betterton-Still Pond club, pretty much said the same thing.

“It matters to me,” he told The Evening Enterprise in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Rabinowitz has been fortunate — he’s had “a nice life,” he said — while there are “others in this world who need assistance.”

Rabinowitz has been involved with the program for more than 25 years and, like Conner, took on a more involved role after Moore stepped down.

He was in charge of logistics, which turned out to be a more complex undertaking than in the past.

In separate interviews, Moore and Rabinowitz  explained that there had been a change in philosophy at the Maryland Food Bank, which for many years had been the primary supplier to the Christmas Basket program.

Moore said she received a letter late this summer advising that the Food Bank was now partnering only with community groups and other nonprofits — food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and faith-based organizations, for example — that serve food-insecure Marylanders on a regular basis.

The Christmas Basket program in Kent County is considered seasonal. 

Everything fell into place, however.

The Maryland Food Bank was very cooperative in putting Rabinowitz in touch with its primary distributor, food and beverage retailer M. Fellinger Co. out of State College, Pennsylvania.

Employees of Dixon Valve & Coupling Co., one of the staunchest supporters of the Christmas Basket program, went up to Pennsylvania last week and brought back 15,000 pounds of food to Chestertown and warehoused the food until Monday.

Volunteers sprang into action at 8 a.m. on Monday, unloading cases and cases of food upon delivery to the community center.

The high school students played a key role.

“They are so important to us,” Rabinowitz, with clipboard in hand, said during a quick interview Monday at the community center in Worton.

“Our (Lions) clubs have aged, and we need young people,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’m so glad to have their help for our old Lions’ backs.”

At KCHS, Ida Nabb is the longtime advisor to the Interact Club, which is Rotary International’s service club for youth ages 12 to 18.

Packing the Christmas boxes and bagging up age-appropriate toys is something the club members look forward to every year, according to Nabb.

“I think they embrace it so much because they see it’s helping the whole community,” she said.

KCHS sophomore Tess Fuchs, a new Interact Club member, said what impressed her the most was “seeing the community coming together.”

The roll-up-your sleeves work actually began Sunday, Dec. 10 when food collected locally was sorted at the community center by Lions club members and Kent County 4-H’ers categorized toys that had been dropped off the day before.

The 4-H’ers worked from 11 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., finishing about 45 minutes earlier than anticipated because of so much volunteer help.

According to Beth Hill, 4-H took over the toy component of the Christmas Basket program 14 years ago. They have their own toy drive but also partner with Jennifer’s School of Dance, the fire companies’ Santa Run, Washington College Athletics and others.

As the principal agent associate for 4-H youth development in Kent County, Hill heads up the annual 4-H toy drive.

She said nearly 500 children in Kent County, from newborns all the way up to age 18, will receive toys as part of the Christmas Basket program.

According to Hill, all youth 11 and older also will receive at least one $10 gift card to a local food establishment and some families also will receive gift cards/certificates.

The Town of Betterton continued its tradition of collecting hats and gloves.

On her own, a community member knitted “lots and lots of hats for youth of all ages,” Hill said.

While the history of the Christmas Basket program is a little fuzzy, it has been going on for decades and the late Rosalie “Roey” Goodall is credited with becoming involved early.

Wife of the then-president of Dixon Valve & Coupling Co., which relocated its headquarters to Chestertown in 1976, Goodall worked tirelessly with the Department of Social Services and area churches to make sure that as many less-fortunate families as possible would have a Christmas dinner and something under their Christmas tree.

Goodall and her anonymous helpers made up the Christmas Basket Committee, and that’s what they delivered. Christmas baskets.

The name stuck, while it’s boxes — with the Dixon logo — that are now delivered. They are filled identically with nourishing food such as canned ham, cereal, canned vegetables and fruits, pancake mix, pasta, peanut butter and jelly, and desserts. Plus, there are gift cards that can be redeemed at Cross Street Food and Garden in Galena and Bayside Market in Rock Hall.

Since 2000, the program has been led by the Lions clubs in Betterton-Still Pond, Chestertown, Galena, Millington and Rock Hall. 

The behind-the-scenes work began in the fall with signing up schools for canned good drives.

Galena Elementary School students alone collected 1,917 food items, according to Conner. She said the two classes that collected the most food would be treated to a pizza party courtesy of the Galena Lions Club.

Also, Bayside Market owners Andrew and Casey Carroll conducted a food drive where for $10 customers could purchase a bag of groceries to be donated to the Christmas Basket program.

By the end of October, social workers, schools, Upper Shore Aging and Kent County Medical Adult Day Care, among others, submitted their lists of people who need help.

In November, a solicitation letter seeking donations was mailed.

On Monday, by about 1 p.m., the community center had been cleared and boxes were being delivered.

Boxes earmarked for residents in the Betterton, Kennedyville, Millington and Galena areas were dropped off at firehouses there, to be delivered later by firefighters and Lions club members. Brothers Jason and Jon Fellows of the Millington Lions Club headed up this effort.

In the Chestertown and Worton areas, members of the Chestertown Lions Club and Washington College Athletics took the boxes directly to homes.

In Rock Hall, Lions club members and volunteer firefighters took care of delivering the boxes.

Since this is an annual undertaking, financial contributions are always welcome. Donations can be mailed to: the Kent County Christmas Basket Committee, c/o Joe Irr; 13886 Swantown Creek Road, Galena, MD 21635.


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4 Responses

  1. How very wonderful to see the community come together with caring and sharing to help those who are in need.

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