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Towson family launches food and toiletry drive to serve community during the holiday season

Back row, from left: Howard Denney III, a sophomore at the Boys’ Latin School, and friends Sid Subramanian, Adam Decker and Gabe Foster, along with Sam Denney, front row, are taking part in the Denney family's Santa’s Elves Food and Toiletry Drive.
Back row, from left: Howard Denney III, a sophomore at the Boys’ Latin School, and friends Sid Subramanian, Adam Decker and Gabe Foster, along with Sam Denney, front row, are taking part in the Denney family's Santa’s Elves Food and Toiletry Drive. (Courtesy Photo)

After Sarah Denney bought a red mailbox with the words, “Letters to Santa,” written in white block letters across the lid to decorate her home for the holidays, the Rodgers Forge resident wondered how it could be used to serve her community.

She and her husband, Howard, who said he missed volunteering for Toys for Tots during the pandemic, discussed holding a food and toiletries drive at their home.

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Initially a way to help her oldest son, Howard III, satisfy his community service hours at school, the drive later expanded into a community-wide effort.

Santa’s Elves Food and Toiletry Drive has made as its goal collecting 2,500 packages of food and raising $2,500 to benefit the CARES Center at St. Mary of the Assumption Govans in Baltimore, a community outreach program that assists residents with employment, financial and food needs, and the Maryland Food Bank.

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“It really kind of just started when I got a mailbox for letters to Santa,” Denney said. “I was like, what if we invite kids to put their letters in the letters-to-Santa mailbox and maybe they could bring a canned good with it.”

She later asked young Howard if he and his classmates would be interested in helping get out the word around the neighborhood.

So far, her sons have recruited 14 of their friends to help distribute fliers around the Rodgers Forge and Stoneleigh neighborhoods.

Denney, who is a special education teacher at Parkville Middle School, her husband, who is retired after serving 21 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and now works for an automotive logistics company, and her son, who is part of a leadership club at The Orokawa Y in Towson, said helping people comes naturally.

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“By nature this is the type of thing that we do,” she said.

Recalling a time when she and her husband were experiencing financial hardships and had to shop for groceries at the dollar store, she said she understands what it is like to be in need.

“For us, as parents, we always kind of think back to that and think how fortunate we are that during [the pandemic] we are both employed,” she said. “It is important for us to give back as a family.”

Since they started the drive, they have collected 529 packages of food, 120 packages of toiletries and have raised $725.

They are collecting nonperishable food items, including, pasta, pasta sauce, rice and spices, as well as toiletries, including, diapers, toothbrushes, toothpaste and wipes.

Additionally, neighbors can drop off a letter to Santa in the mailbox outside their front door.

Shelley Herek, a resident of Stoneleigh who has been helping with the drive, said she wanted to get involved to provide young people with an opportunity to serve.

“An important attribute that kids need to learn is that you do need to provide back and you do need to support your fellow man because someday you may need support from your fellow man,” she said.

Howard III, 16, a sophomore at the Boys’ Latin School, said it means a lot to him to be able to assist his community in this way.

“I am able to bring joy to other people and it helps me to know that people who are less fortunate than us are able to get the stuff they need,” he said.

Rachael Neill, director of community services at the CARES Center, said the support of the community and people like the Denney family means the world.

“We are fully donation and grant-based, so the support of the community is critical to us being able to have enough food to give out to people who are in need.”

Santa’s Elves Food and Toiletry Drive is accepting in-person donations at 151 Regester Ave. and virtual donations at https://mdfoodbank.fenly.org/drive/santas-elvesvirtual-food-drive/ through Dec. 20.

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