Say the word "philanthropist" and the names of the wealthy and powerful come to mind.

But philanthropists don't need to make million-dollar gifts to help change lives. Many nonprofits in the Baltimore area thrive by receiving many small gifts — the result of people of average means putting aside a little money to benefit a good cause.

To mark the season of giving, we offer snapshots of donors and beneficiaries at three nonprofit groups that use small gifts to make a big difference in the Baltimore area.

Maryland Food Bank

Robert and Mary Lou Latane are not millionaires. They weren't born into money; they didn't win the lottery. In fact, the couple, who are both 85, have been living on a fixed income since he retired from the city school system decades ago.

But that doesn't mean they don't have the power to change lives with their gifts.

For well over a decade, the Latanes have been giving $25 a month to the Maryland Food Bank, among other charities.

The Food Bank estimates that the Villa Nova residents have made more than 135 donations.

"We're comfortable, and there are more and more people who aren't," said Mary Lou Latane, who was a stay-at-home mother for the couple's three sons. "We thought contributing to [the Food Bank] did what we wanted in trying to help others."

For those who are hungry, the Food Bank can be a lifesaver.

The Rev. Andre Samuel feeds about 40 to 50 people a day at his Southwest Baltimore food pantry, Fishes and Loaves. About half are working parents; many others are disabled people and seniors.

"So many seniors that come say, 'This helps me be able to pay for my medicine. I have to decide between eating and paying for my medicine,'" he said.

Samuel, a minister at nearby Faith Tabernacle, makes the drive to the Food Bank's warehouse in Halethorpe at 8 a.m. each weekday. He's back at Fishes and Loaves before 9 as the first people seeking food arrive.

The number of people seeking help has increased 100-fold in recent weeks because of cuts to food stamps and the government shutdown, Samuel said.

"I was really concerned about running out of food, but the Maryland Food Bank had some food that they turned around and gave to us," he said.

The Food Bank, which was founded in 1979, provides about 29 million meals annually to people in 22 counties. Trucks gather donations from stores, food manufacturers and farms, and the nonprofit also purchases staples such as peanut butter, cereal and cans of tuna.

Across the state, more than 781,000 people are "food insecure," which means that they don't know how they'll obtain their next meal. Many of those people do not meet the requirements for food stamps or other assistance programs, meaning they rely entirely on food pantries and other charities.

The Latanes know that their small donations put meals on the tables of hungry families.

"It doesn't take a whole lot to begin to make some difference," Mary Lou Latane said. "It does make you feel better to know you're helping somebody."

GiveCorps