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Spirit of giving spurs holiday good deeds, helping hands [Towson]

By Rus VanWestervelt, Rusvw13@gmail.com

3:56 PM EST, November 8, 2013

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The holidays are sneaking up on us, and many around the Towson area are beginning their annual scramble to shop, plan time with friends and coordinate their celebrations for the new year. One group at Towson's Immaculate Conception parish, however, has been planning their Giving Tree/Adopt-A-Family Program for the last four months. They are just about ready to put the program into action and help area families in need.

The program, which helps infants, youths, expectant mothers and senior citizens in the Baltimore area, is managed by coordinator Mary Knudsen, of West Towson, who oversees the work of 27 team members.

Each July, Carole Gibison, of Timonium, contacts the 18 agencies and parishes that the Immaculate Conception group assists. By September, she has a list of needs that she forwards to Katy Boggs and Jennifer Whiting, who then work with a larger team, with Boggs overseeing the ornament packet preparation and Whiting taking charge of the label production.

One of the agencies assisted is Sisters Academy in Baltimore. Andy Gleeson, a member of the Father O'Neill Knights of Columbus, Council 4011, coordinates the purchasing, wrapping and delivering of books as a donation from the Knights of Columbus and Immaculate Conception's Giving Tree Ministry.

This month, Adopt-A-Family director Maureen O'Hara, of Timonium, is meeting with parishioners who would like to "adopt" one of the families in need, as identified by the partnering agencies. Then, by early December, a larger team, directed by Whiting and Theresa Pac, of Lutherville, prepares the gifts for delivery.

Last year, Immaculate Conception parishioners and school and religious education families delivered 1,200 gifts, distributed 234 gift cards and 64 books and adopted 43 families.

"Our team strives to work together to offer members of our parish, school, and religious education program the opportunity to reach out into the Baltimore community and offer support to as many needy individuals and families as possible," Knudsen said. "Our efforts are based on prayer that God will bless our work so that the gifts coming into the homes of others in the Baltimore community warm their lives with his love."

Loch Raven Technical Academy, in partnership with the Maryland Food Bank, will be distributing food from the LRTA Food Pantry on Nov. 23 and Dec. 14. Families who are in need are invited to receive food items from the pantry at the school on 8101 LaSalle Road, Towson, between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.

If you know individuals or families in need, please encourage them to stop by. If they cannot make the dates listed, friends or other family members are welcome to pick up items for them.

As a follow-up to my last column concerning wellness in our communities, one school is tackling the subject of Internet safety in an interactive forum. The counseling department at Dumbarton Middle School is hosting an Internet Safety Parent Education Night on Nov. 14, from 7 to 8 p.m., in the school cafeteria. Although this is being offered as a resource to the fifth-grade families of Dumbarton's feeder schools, it is open to other parents of "tweens and teens" as well.

The counselors will be leading a candid discussion on the many issues that children are involved with surrounding technology and social media, including cyber bullying and sexting, two real issues that are having a negative impact on middle- and high-school students.

For more information, contact the Dumbarton counseling center at 410-887-3176.

If you are involved in acts of kindness during the holiday season, please send me an email at rusvw13@gmail.com, detailing what you are doing for the Towson community. I will do my best to get in touch with you for more details and, possibly, share your good deeds in an upcoming column.