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Laurel mom and daughter collect donations for care packages to send to Haiti, Liberia | Old Town

A Laurel woman who has worked for almost a decade to assist communities in Haiti and Liberia is determined this year to help them have a cheerful holiday season, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Joanna Diabe is collecting donations for the Christmas party she throws every year in Camp-Perrin, a commune of about 41,000 people in western Haiti. She and her daughter, Utopia, have been visiting Camp-Perrin since 2012. Diabe also plans to send care packages to her native Liberia and to assist a friend who is doing charity work in Guyana.

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“Working from home, I was getting depressed,” Diabe said. “It’s not easy as a very outgoing person to stay home. I said to myself, ‘What can I do? What can I do to get myself out there to help other people?’ ”

Diabe is gathering donations of rice, beans, paper cups and plates, toiletries, personal hygiene products and women’s underwear to ship to communities in Haiti and Liberia. She often travels to both countries, but because of the pandemic will only be visiting Haiti this year.

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Cash donations will cover the shipping and travel costs, while excess funds will be devoted to paying outstanding medical bills at local hospitals or to helping a friend distribute toys in Guyana, she said. Donations are tax deductible because she has a registered nonprofit organization, Dorcas Works International.

Donations may be made online at gf.me/u/y4fh2u or Diabe may be reached by email at utopiaafricadesigns@gmail.com.

More than 600 students at Laurel Elementary School had the chance to imagine they could dance among the stars when they were treated recently to a virtual presentation by a local author.

Laurel resident Melanie Eitelman read her children’s book, “Maureen’s Irish Dance on the Stars,” to students during Zoom sessions on Oct. 19 and 20. The students, who are attending virtual school through the first semester, then had the chance to ask Eitelman questions.

“I thought it would be fun for students to meet an author,” Laurel Elementary Principal Melinda Lee said of her decision to invite Eitelman to present to the students.

“Maureen’s Irish Dance on the Stars” was published in March by London-based Olympia Press. It tells the story of an Irish girl who takes an umbrella to the moon and perseveres until she achieves her dreams. Eitelman said her inspiration came from her great-grandfather, an Irish immigrant who landed at Ellis Island, and her own children, some of whom participate in Irish dance.

Having the book published was a fulfillment of her own dream, Eitelman said; the manuscript was rejected 13 times before accepted by Olympia Press. That was a lesson she said she shared with Laurel Elementary students.

“I had a dream to always write a children’s book,” Eitelman said. “I analyzed over 100 children’s books by reading them to my children and I thought, ‘I could do this.’ ”

“Maureen’s Irish Dance on the Stars” is available on Amazon. To learn more about Eitelman, go to melanieeitelman.weebly.com.

Residents can donate items to the Laurel Historical Society to help the group build its collection related to 2020 events. The society will host a Collecting Days on Nov. 15. The historical society is looking for items related to the coronavirus pandemic, social justice protests, virtual education and at-home experiences, as well as items that reflect the lives of the community’s Black and Hispanic residents.

“One of the most important discoveries of this year was the importance of documenting events and the community’s response as they happen, and preserving the objects and stories of that time,” historical society Executive Director Ann Bennett said in a statement. “2020 has been a momentous year in American history. Future — and current — generations will want to know what happened here in Laurel. In preparation for expanding our current exhibit, which has been extended through 2021, we plan to add items that reflect these events.”

Collecting Days will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Laurel Museum, 817 Main St. Masks are required and safety measures will be in place. Residents may make appointments by sending an email to info@laurelhistoricalsociety.org. Detailed information about making donations may be found at laurelhistoricalsociety.org or by calling the museum at 301-725-7975.

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