Many teenagers spend the days immediately after Christmas playing with new video games, listening to new music or trying on new clothes.
But hundreds teens in Anne Arundel County – along with younger children as well – have spent at least a portion of their holiday break this week at the Annapolis farmers market on Riva Road, volunteering to sort clothes and stuff backpacks for the less fortunate.
"There have been lots of kids here," said Jeanette Middleton-Sudano, executive director of the Arundel-based Giving Back, Linda's Legacy. "We certainly need them sorting, packing, and using their muscles and strong backs."
Giving Back, Linda's Legacy is a nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless through volunteerism. Middleton-Sudano, a resident of Severna Park, said the group distributed 600 backpacks on Chrstmas Eve to people in need at the Baltimore Rescue Mission.
Between Tuesday and Friday of this past week, an army of volunteers was busy filling backpacks to load into 24 trucks – bound for 22 homeless and cold-weather shelters in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington. In all, Middleton-Sudano said, the organization would distribute some 3,000 backpacks.
Items collected include new or gently used coats, hats, gloves, warm clothing for all ages and genders, sleeping bags, blankets, new underwear and baby items such as diapers, baby seats, clothes and formula. Men's clothing, she said, is always of particular need.
The organization works with local schools to recruit volunteers. On Tuesday, for instance, students from Severn High, Arundel High and Archbishop Spaulding, among others, were on hand to sort, pack and load items to be distributed. On Wednesday, a group of Girl Scouts was busy nearby baking 200 dozen cookies that would be given on Friday's distribution day.
During the week, volunteers also have heard speakers from the various organizations that receive the donations, and learned how their efforts would aide those struggling with addiction, homelessness or other challenges.
"It's good to see everybody so engaged," she said of the youth volunteers.
The biggest problem, Middleton-Sudano said, has been keeping everyone busy. As of mid-week donations were behind last year's pace, and she was concerned there might not be enough work to keep the volunteers occupied.
Organizers weren't sure what to expect for this year's drive. Middleton-Sudano, who has served as executive director since 2015, said timing of the holidays, the school calendar and other factors affected some of the collection and sorting time.
Plus, there was concern that many people who normally contribute might have already donated items as part of relief efforts related to hurricanes early this year in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico.
"We're hoping we can get the community rally," she said Wednesday, noting that donations can still be dropped off through Friday at the farmer's market.
Even after this week's collection and distribution, Giving Back, Linda's Legacy continues to collect donations for future distribution. People can give items, or make monetary donations — $25 pays for one filled backpack, according to the group's website, homelessdrive.org.
Giving Back, Linda's Legacy was founded more than 30 years ago by Linda Greenberg, a county resident who for year simply gave items to homeless people she encountered. Middleton-Sudano said Greenberg ran her grassroots program "from trunk of her car." The initiative grew each year, and eventually became known as Giving Back.
Greenberg died in 2015, and the organization evolved into Giving Back, Linda's Legacy.
In 1991 interview with The Baltimore Sun, Greenberg described her philosophy, suggesting that if people gave to the homeless and those in need, "they would have the greatest Christmas. They would have the greatest gift."