A holiday tradition that's been months in the making inched closer on Sunday, Dec. 16, to its gratifying conclusion.
In the bright basement of a Towson parishioner's home, which in recent years has become a hub of holiday activity and goodwill, a dozen local residents gathered to wrap more than 600 Christmas presents to be delivered this week to a pair of Baltimore City elementary schools.
But as the undertaking led by Hunt's Memorial United Methodist Church in Towson to give gifts to a few dozen city students has grown to include as recipients two full elementary schools, the church's Mid-High youth group has enlisted another church, a Cub Scout troop and local middle school students to ensure the children would all receive a present on Friday, Dec. 21.
"We've gotten a lot of help this year," said Caroline Boyle, 15, whose father, P.J. Boyle was hosting the wrapping event.
For the last four years, members of the Hunt's Memorial United Methodist Church Mid-High youth group have done their part in brightening the holidays for Baltimore City elementary school students. Starting in September, they begin fundraising to purchase gifts, and then lead the effort to collect the gifts. Year after year, they've tried to expand the program in order to spread more holiday cheer.
After a few years of delivering to just a handful of classrooms, the group last December gave every student at Charles Carroll Barrister Elementary School in Pigtown a box of Christmas gifts.
This year, a second school — Frederick Elementary in southwest Baltimore — will benefit from the church group's generosity.
It's a large undertaking for the youth group which spearheads the efforts but Caroline said the process is more or less the same as last year,
P.J. Boyle said adding a second school had been a tentative goal for next Christmas, but given the added support from other groups, the second school has been a seamless addition this year.
Parishioners from the Church of the Holy Comforter in Lutherville joined Hunt's efforts this year and contributed both giftboxes and their time, with members of both Holy Comforter's and Hunt's knitting groups crafting homemade hats for the city children.
One Holy Comforter parishioner works at Under Armour and provided 200 shoeboxes for the effort, and as part of a service group at Dumbarton Middle School which Caroline helps with, students from that school contributed as well.
All that complemented the traditional generosity of the Hunt's Memorial parishioners in the effort, Caroline said.
In addition, 20 full boxes were anonymously donated to the church, and even the tape and wrapping paper came courtesy of the church's membership, Meredith Boyle said.
"Every time we'd come in on Sunday, there would be 20 more boxes," Caroline said. We had to figure out how to get them to the car."
It's a long, involved process, but Patricia Banks, a West Towson resident, who oversees the Mid-High group, said the teens feel more than fulfilled when the presents are delivered.
"That's definitely what makes it all worthwhile," Banks said. "They're so excited."
Sunday's wrapping session was efficient and organized, a feat in itself given the scale of the operation. Each gift box contains a knit hat and a pair of gloves, some toiletry items like toothbrushes, and candy and toys.
The presents were stacked under hanging signs indicating the grade and gender of the recipient.
Once wrapped, the presents are bagged and tagged with their destination in advance of delivery on Dec. 21.
On Sunday Dec. 16, the speedy wrapping process gave way to the boundless energy of the Cub Scouts of Troop 319, who operate out of Hunt's church, and who were charged with delivering a carload of gifts for the young boys at Charles Carroll Barrister and Frederick elementary schools.
Cubmaster Michael Dett, who lives in Village Green, said the enthusiasm of the troop's 46 young members far exceeded other December service projects.
"We thought it would be a great way for the boys to give back," Dett said.
The Cubmaster, who himself was a Cub Scout in Troop 319 as a boy, said the opportunity to spread a little holiday cheer and help the boys understand that people who are otherwise just like them might need a little help was "a natural fit."
They wrapped at a recent troop-wide meeting, and the Cub Scouts' zeal for the project helped them sail through what Dett believed would be a difficult activity.