Megan Leaf's gifts for hospitalized children brought her unexpected celebrity status last week when she was honored by Gov. William Donald Schaefer as one of the state's 10 most outstanding volunteers.
"The governor put his arm around me like we were old buddies, and he said 'Congratulations.' It was really neat," said Megan, the 11-year-old Forest Hill girl who has been making gift boxes for patients at the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Children's Center since last summer.
"I was so excited I woke up at 6:30. I'm really proud and excited."
The gift packages, which Megan calls "love boxes," each contain a toy, coloring book, crayons, a game and a "trinket."
She has been delivering at least 20 boxes a month to the hospital since last summer -- a total of about 350 love boxes, including the delivery she made with her mother Thursday on their way back from the volunteer awards ceremony at the State House in Annapolis.
"They're boxes of love for the kids at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center," Megan said.
"I just know how it feels to be in the hospital overnight, and to have nothing to do, and kind of be afraid -- not that I was or anything. There's just a place for those kids in my heart."
The governor praised Megan for her original idea.
"Megan has already learned the importance of helping others. I feel honored giving her this outstanding volunteer award. She serves as an inspiration for all of us," said Schaefer.
Megan said she got the idea to help patients at the Children's Center because she knows firsthand what it's like to need the special medical attention the hospital provides.
She is blind in her right eye and has neurofibromatosis, commonly known as Elephant Man's disease, a genetic disorder causing tumors inside and outside the body.
Last summer, she was hospitalized briefly at the Children's Center for tests after suffering unexplained headaches.
Since then, she's spent most of her spare moments hand-decorating shoe boxes with drawings and stickers that contain her gifts. When she started out on the project, she purchased gifts with her own money and sought donations from family, friends and area businesses. She entered a writing contest and put her $15 winnings into her project.
Megan said she was initially frustrated when she approached businesses for donations. They didn't take her seriously. But she said she has been overwhelmed by an outpouring of public support after an article about her project appeared in The Sun on Valentine's Day.
"I have $3,000 in the bank and a checking account, so I don't have to worry anymore that I can't buy something for the love boxes when I see it. I just have to get out my checkbook," said Megan.
"There's this one lady I've never met who sends me a donation about every week. She's the sweetest little thing. I've really been overwhelmed."
Megan said among the donations she's received is an anonymous gift of a bag full of handmade stuffed pink pigs, just the right size for a shoe box.
Megan was nominated for the state honor by her 4-H Club leaders, said her mother, Deborah Leaf. Megan was the youngest of the volunteers honored Thursday.
"I find it quite overwhelming that people are giving her support for something she likes doing," said Megan's mother. "We're really proud of her."
Megan's award was a framed print of the State House in winter.
"I'm going to hang it right outside my office," said Megan, explaining that her office is really the laundry room, which she shares with the family's two dogs.