A drive to spread warmth this winter

The Baltimore Sun
Here's how to help the homeless stay warm this winter.

As forecasters anticipate a frigid winter, a local hotel and retailer are joining forces to help provide Baltimore's most vulnerable with blankets of warmth this season.

From now until New Year's Eve, the Hyatt Recency Baltimore, along with Target and internet meteorologist Justin Berk, is hosting a blanket drive to benefit Baltimore organizations Franciscan Center and the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training.

"The team was brainstorming ideas to give back and because of the cold weather we thought there were a lot of people who need to stay warm this winter," said Kevin Kennedy, general manager at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore.

The goal is to raise a total of 800 blankets, about the number of beds in the hotel. Volunteers will distribute the blankets to the Franciscan Center and MCVET. Since the drive began on Thanksgiving Day, the Hyatt has received over 400 blankets.

"People are in the holiday spirit of giving and I think it has taken off and will continue to grow," Kennedy said. "We even have customers staying in the hotel that are buying blankets and donating to the cause."

Meg Ducey, director of development and marketing for the Franciscan Center, said that the organization is excited to be a beneficiary of the blanket drive.

"One thing that is a great need for people who are homeless is warmth," Ducey said. "These blankets will be a tremendous blessing."

Organized to provide emergency assistance and support to the economically disadvantaged, the Franciscan Center offers a soup kitchen, clothing, career services, and extensive financial assistance. The center, located on West 23rd Street, serves approximately 700 people a day, five days a week.

Ducey said they plan to distribute the blankets along with their traditional gift of toiletries to clients at the organization's annual Christmas dinner on Dec. 23.

"We expect to give 500 gifts and 500 blankets," Ducey said. "It's really exciting and I think it will help many people in Baltimore."

The exective director of Franciscan Center, Christian Metzger, recommended Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training also be a beneficiary of the drive.

Located on North High Street in what used to be a Solo cup factory, the organization offers services to homeless veterans and other veterans in need to help them become productive citizens in their communities.

"We serve the men and women who have served the country and we give them the opportunity to turn their lives around," said Jeffery Kendrick, MCVET executive director.

Admitted veterans stay on average for 18 months and have the opportunity to earn their GED, bachelor's and master's degrees or get technical training from local companies. They also have access to counseling and social services to help veterans heal from trauma.

The blankets will be used not only for the 250 beds the facility houses but also for the daily drop-in service from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. During this time, veterans can come to change clothes, shower, shave, or hang out indoors. While these homeless veterans have the option to be admitted into the program, Kendrick said, many choose to stay out on the streets.

"For those who do, we want to be able to send them with a blanket," Kendrick said.

The drive only accepts new blankets.Those interested in donating can buy blankets online at Target.com with free shipping to the Hyatt Regency. In addition, donors can drop off blankets with the bellman at the Charles Street entrance or purchase blankets at the front desk of the hotel. Participants can also tweet to the hashtag #hyattblanketsbmore to spread the word. More information can be found on the Hyatt Regency Facebook page.

Matt Boylan, store manager for the Canton Target and the retailer's Baltimore district community captain, said the company often supports charitable causes, focusing on early childhood education. This is the first time the Canton location has participated in a blanket drive.

"When the Hyatt called to ask us to be part of the drive, I said I was on board," said Boylan, a Baltimore native. "I think it's something great to bring Baltimore together."

Target donated 50 blankets to the drive as a company. Other corporations that donate 50 blankets or more get their company name featured on the Hyatt Regency Baltimore website and promoted on social media. In addition, they will receive official Hyatt Blankets Baltimore Partner status and an invitation to a "thank you" celebration in early 2015.

Hyatt Regency's Kennedy said that it's up to the community to make this a successful drive.

"Knowing this city, I'm confident that we will exceed our goal," he said. "The community really comes together to support each other."

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