A 'paradise' amid the rocks and weeds
The Baltimore Sun

People Who Need People makes an emotional connection with women in need

Two months of medical leave gave Judi Miller ample time to reflect.

As the Glenwood resident recovered from surgery, it was the support of her friends that helped mend her spirit.

“I thought about how fortunate I was to have so many great friends in my corner helping me. And I thought about what it would be like for people who don’t have that kind of cheering section,” she says.

What resulted was a small but growing network of women and girls in western Howard County who are quietly doing great things. Miller chose a simple and direct moniker for the effort: People Who Need People.

“I really feel like at the end of the day we are all people who need each other. We need to stop and remember that’s what’s most important,” Miller says. “It’s built a great sense of community.”

Founded in 2006, the nonprofit has grown to about 100 supporters who focus on the physical and emotional needs of women and children.

It’s a grassroots effort — from the homemade breakfast casseroles they deliver to My Sister’s Place Women’s Center in Baltimore once a month, to the assembly line of teens and tweens who pack lunch sacks for Sarah’s Hope and Grassroots shelters, to the collective birthday parties members put on at area shelters complete with a giant cake, gifts for all, and games of bingo and musical chairs.

“Anybody can write a check. That’s not what this is about,” says board member Mary Beth Furst, of Glenwood. “One of the gratifying things about this organization is that you see exactly where it goes. It’s all hands-on. There’s no mailing it in.”

Miller calls it a “hub and spokes” approach.

“If someone donates to this group you know it’s going straight to people in need, because this organization has virtually no overhead,” she says. “We don’t cater our events; we have very little administration. We’re nimble so we can respond to requests quickly.”

While they certainly help fulfill the essentials, like funding and food, what distinguish PWNP are the thoughtful extras. Attendees at last February’s Heart to Heart Tea fundraiser were asked to donate blankets, boxes of chocolate and bottles of pink nail polish that would be distributed on Valentine’s Day to women at the shelters and resource centers the group supports.

“This group has always tried to make the emotional connection, not just meet the physical needs — that’s why you’ll see the chocolates and (nail) polish,” says Glenwood resident Jennifer Sheehan, vice president of PWNP’s nine-member board of directors and the group’s liaison with Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia.

They took a similar approach on Mother’s Day in 2010 with spring gift bags consisting of a colorful reusable tote filled with items like lip balm and socks, gift certificates for manicures at a business within walking distance of the shelter and even tip money for the manicurist. Each included a handwritten letter from a member of PWNP.

“The women were sobbing, literally sobbing,” Bonnie Hudak, volunteer specialist at Grassroots, says of the women’s reaction to PWNP’s Mother’s Day gifts. “They were so touched that somebody thought about them.”

Hudak says People Who Need People really came through for the shelter on several occasions, including the back-to-back snowstorms of February 2010.

Like most others, Hudak was snowed in at home during the storms when she got a panicked call from shelter director Andrea Ingram saying that the 60 people at the shelter were nearly out of food. Hudak called PWNP, and the group rallied through the elements to deliver a truckload of essentials: cereal, fresh fruit, snacks and laundry detergent.

And when Howard County’s cold-weather shelter was getting ready to open last winter, organizers again called PWNP when they had a shortage of blankets and sheets. Moreover, PWNP delivered brand-new linens.

“When you have 20 to 30 people who’ve been waiting out in the cold to get into this shelter and to get fresh linens — what a sense of dignity,” Hudak reflects. “What a sense of: ‘I’m worth something. Someone cares about me.’

“The face of homelessness is changing,” Hudak adds. “For most of our families, they’ve never been in a shelter before. The (PWNP) organization is doing what people say they want to do but don’t seem to make the time to do it.”

Bruce Clopein, volunteer resource manager at Sarah’s House shelter and service center near Fort Meade, says People Who Need People helps fund the center’s continuing education program so clients can get GED skills, in partnership with Anne Arundel Community College.

Sarah’s House is a joint venture of the U.S. Army, Catholic Charities and the Department of Social Services, but Clopein calls PWNP its unofficial fourth component.

“It’s transformational in the lives of our families,” he says of the work the charity enables.

More recently, People Who Need People has begun supporting a fifth charity, Voices for Children, an organization that advocates for the educational and medical needs of foster children.

“We’re able to touch so many people because so many people give,” says Furst. “Truly, every month it’s not the same group of people coming out. To me, that speaks to the grassroots, fundamental desire people have to help and to get involved.”

For more information about People Who Need People, go to the organization’s website: www.pwnp-peoplewhoneedpeople.com.

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