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People of all ages approached the altar at Severna Park United Methodist Church Sunday morning to pick from 150 envelopes, each containing a $100 bill.

It’s the congregation’s third year practicing an “Intentional Act of Kindness” advent project where members receive $100 to donate to any person or cause of their choosing. The project started in 2017 when a couple at the church anonymously donated $10,000 to be distributed among members with the only caveat that subsequent donations are intentional.

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"It’s not really easy because you really want to make it meaningful,” said churchgoer Janis Dike. “You really want it to make a difference”

The anonymous couple gifted $10,000 again this year, with an additional $5,000 coming from other members of the congregation. Last year the church distributed nearly $22,000 to its congregation to use as they see fit, which grew to $30,000 in donations when members matched or contributed more than the $100 donation.

Rev. Ron Foster said this year’s donations will expand to be over $20,000.

The theme of the church’s advent celebration this year is “sparking joy” in others by giving them the opportunity to meet a need for someone else.

“It makes people tune in to the circumstances of those around them,” Foster said.

Dike was sitting in church Sunday thinking about how nice it would be to help a foster mom she knows who is supporting three girls. Although Dike hasn’t officially decided where or who to give her donation, she said she feels empowered by the opportunity to make a change.

Dike, who works in an elementary school in Anne Arundel County, said she often sees people in need, especially children. Last year she had a student in her class who was homeless and moving into Sarah’s House, a supportive housing project.

She gave the child’s mother the $100 to buy her children Christmas presents.

Although the donation can go to any cause or person, the money is often given to neighbors, colleagues or strangers who have fallen on hard times or are struggling with an illness.

The kickoff of advent is Lorine Smith’s favorite Sunday of the year. Smith has been participating in the Intentional Act of Kindness project all three years. Last year, Smith was dining at The Brown Box Eatery in Odenton when she connected with her waitress, who was trying to save up money to attend college.

Smith tipped the waitress $100.

Salisbury University student Nick Plummer, 20, was at work when his colleague told him how she was struggling to support her children after being in an abusive relationship.

“I decided right then and there, she just told me her story, and I ran home and got it,” Plummer said. His coworker burst into tears when he gave her the gift, he said.

Plummer’s grandmother heard his story and gave him an additional $100 to give his roommate, who was supporting himself through college.

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Several children and teenagers picked up envelopes on Sunday. Abby Roberts, 11, plans to use the money to honor her uncle who played sports in the Special Olympics. Roberts said she wants to purchase food gift cards for some of the kids who played with her uncle.

Joanne Kouvaras already completed her act of kindness. Kouvaras and another family matched the church’s donation to take their friends who are struggling out shopping on Saturday. The high school students bought necessities like clothes, shoes and winter jackets.

“It put such smiles on their faces and the awe in what we were doing for them was fantastic,” Kouvaras said.

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