Laurel Leader

Church provides generous donation to Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services and others | OLD TOWN

Leah Paley, the executive director of Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services, knew that the social services organization she leads was going to receive a donation from Laurel Presbyterian Church. It wasn’t until a presentation on May 12, however, that she knew just how much.

On that day, members of Laurel Presbyterian Church donated $40,000 to LARS, which provides assistance to low-income households in the Laurel area. It was one of the largest single private donations the group has received in the past decade.


“The final number was definitely a surprise,” Paley said.

Among those present at the check presentation were Amy Ruth Schacht, the pastor at Laurel Presbyterian, and Dot Brownlie, a church member who also sits on the LARS board. The funds will support COVID relief efforts at LARS.


The donation, which is also believed to be the largest single financial gift that Laurel Presbyterian has ever made, was made possible by an unexpected surplus of funds at the church, which sits along Sandy Spring Road.

Laurel Presbyterian, like all area churches, halted in-person services at the beginning of the pandemic more than a year ago. Many churches have suffered a financial hit as a result, but the opposite was true at Laurel Presbyterian.

“We didn’t know how the giving would end up,” Schacht said. “The giving had not only stayed stable but had gone up. Because our expenses had stayed low in 2020, we had ended the year with an incredible surplus of $50,000.”

For a church of 180 members with an annual budget of $320,000, that surplus was “significant,” Schacht said. Walt Bowen and other members of the church’s mission team were adamant that the funds be used to assist those in Laurel who are suffering financially because of the pandemic.

“It caused a great discussion,” Schacht said. “It forced us to think about where we are ourselves financially vis-à-vis the needs of Laurel. They voted to stick with giving our excess to our neighbors in Laurel with COVID relief.”

Church members reached out to several area organizations to learn how they might put extra funds to use. Laurel Presbyterian has long had a close relationship with LARS. The church was one of the congregations that helped establish LARS in 1987. Church members have served on the LARS board, helped run food and gift drives, and worked with the group to provide temporary shelter to homeless individuals at the church. Moreover, Schacht said Laurel Presbyterian has reached out to LARS for guidance on how to best address the needs of individuals who approach the church for assistance.

Members of Laurel Presbyterian are particularly concerned with assisting individuals and families facing eviction. Though there are both federal and state bans on evictions because of the pandemic, many households have fallen behind on payments that may come due in full when the moratoriums are lifted.

Indeed, rental and mortgage assistance efforts have increased significantly at LARS. From July 2019 through April 2020, LARS gave $44,853 in assistance to 69 households out of 246 that applied. From July 2020 through April 2021, LARS gave $223,683 in assistance to 106 households out of 319 that applied.


“We are helping more, but we’re helping them with more money, too,” Paley said.

The funds will help support salaries for the case managers, who review rental and mortgage assistance applications, and may help LARS hire an additional case manager to process more applications, Paley said.

Donations from Laurel Presbyterian’s surplus are benefiting other Old Town groups as well. The church recently made a $5,000 donation to Scotchtown Hills Elementary School and a $1,000 donation to First Generation College Bound.

Laurel Presbyterian Church remains a close-knit community. Members of the church called each other to check in at the beginning of the pandemic and more recently coordinated efforts to find vaccination appointments for eligible members. The church has offered online worship services since March 2020 and celebrated an outdoor Easter service together in April. Regular outdoor Sunday services resume this Sunday, May 23.

Paley said she and everyone at LARS remain grateful for the incredible donation members of Laurel Presbyterian made.

“It was very energizing and gives us strength and gives us confidence that there’s this belief in our work and our ability to execute our work,” Paley said. “It’s a meaningful, beautiful gift and we’re just really thrilled.”


Congratulations are in order for seniors Anna Pham and Max Bagileo of St. Vincent Pallotti High School.

Pham is valedictorian of Pallotti’s class of 2021. She earned a 4.55 cumulative grade-point average, is a member of the National Honor Society, the varsity lacrosse team and the varsity swim team. Pham is also a member of the Girl Scouts and working on her Gold Award, and will attend the University of Maryland Baltimore County in the fall.

Bagileo is salutatorian of Pallotti’s class of 2021 He earned a 4.54 cumulative GPA, is a member of the National Honor Society, the varsity swim team and club volleyball. Bagileo is also a member of the Union of Catholic Apostolate and yearbook. He will attend Eastern University in Pennsylvania in the fall, where he will also play men’s volleyball.

Pallotti’s commencement ceremony will be held Wednesday, May 26 at the school.

Contact Old Town columnist Mary Sullivan at