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Reaching out to help others in Laurel while staying safe during coronavirus outbreak

For one week last month, Carol Relitz placed a huge, empty box in front of her townhouse. By each evening, the residents of Birdcherry Lane — the “Birdcherries” as Relitz calls them — had filled it with socks, shoes, toiletries and more for the homeless.

“I had a schedule I sent out,” Relitz said. “We’re all at home. It was a good time to clean out the closets.”

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While she knew the residents would be supportive, she was still surprised.

“I was amazed,” Relitz said. “It was unbelievable.”

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As the battle against the coronavirus closes businesses, many are finding themselves unemployed and struggling to make ends meet.

Many organizations are looking to help through nonperishable food items, financial assistance and volunteers. Some organizations are calling for medical contributions like donating blood as thousands of drives across the state have been canceled.

Though its building is closed to the public, Laurel Advocacy & Referral Services Inc. is still actively working to help the homeless and low-income residents of Laurel through appointments to provide food and financial assistance.

“Right now, our biggest need is money,” said Leah Paley, executive director. “People are calling us up saying they can’t make rent."

While Gov. Larry Hogan has announced that there can be no evictions at this time and that utilities cannot be cut off to residents, people are still accruing debt and will need help when the crisis is over to get ahead of it, she said.

Donations of money can be used to help immediately. Unlike grants, which are for a specific purpose, donations have more flexibility in usage, Paley said.

“We are seeing more people,” Paley said. 'The demand will only increase."

LARS is also accepting food donations. Residents are to stay in their vehicles and a staff member will come out to get the items.

“Normally we have. a very robust staff of volunteers,” said Paley, noting that the volunteer program has ceased until further notice. “We are a very small staff. We have to be smart.”

For more information on LARS services or how to help, call 301-776-0442.

Daily dinners are still being served by Fish of Laurel Inc. at Elizabeth House, though the dinners are now carryout only. Volunteers have seen a steady rise in participation, from serving around 45 people daily to now 60 each day, according to Stephanie Hammond, president of Fish of Laurel board of trustees.

“The needs are growing, but with the help of donations and our dedicated volunteers, we are still working to help provide assistance during this challenging time,” Hammond said in an email.

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Donations of nonperishable goods for the food pantry and prepared entrees for the kitchen are being accepted. Monetary donations can be made via their website at fishoflaurel.org. For more information, contact volunteers@fishoflaurel.org.

For years, Laurel City Councilwoman Valerie Nicholas has actively helped the less fortunate by providing home-cooked meals, hygiene kits and even financial assistance when needed. As restrictions tightened local gatherings, she went looking for the new congregating places.

“This is what I’ve been doing all the time,” Nicholas said. “The difference is now I am not going into homes. I am setting things at the door. People are scared. There is a lot of need.”

Anyone interested in helping Nicholas with donations can text her at 301-573-6183.

“Water, toilet paper and paper towels are hard to find items,” she said. “It’s like a game. You have to catch the stores when they are restocking. This is unbelievable. It is like we are living in a sci-fi movie.”

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