During many of William Donald Schaefer's years as Baltimore City mayor, one of the most important offices at City Hall belonged to Floraine Applefeld.
She was the volunteer coordinator, an indefatigable dynamo of a lady who was pushing "Baltimore is Best" nicknacks and memorabilia one moment, begging for donations the next while keeping her telephone lines always busy with calls to civic organizations. Whenever a problem cropped up, she had the mayor's ear.
When Mr. Schaefer became governor, Mrs. Applefeld packed her bags and moved her high-energy volunteer command to Annapolis. Baltimore City was the loser in that no one replaced her.
After five and a half years in office, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has now created his volunteer coordination program.
Called Neighbors United, its telephone -- 396-7777 -- offers citizens a way to get information about volunteer opportunities within the city and ways to address specific neighborhood needs. It also serves as a clearinghouse for non-profit and community organizations.
This is a step forward. But it remains to be seen whether this arrangement is enough to compensate for the sense of loss citizen organizations have felt since the departure of Mrs. Applefeld.
The trouble is that while the new program seemingly fills a gap in the city organization, it is run by the Office of Promotion and not City Hall.
That suggests that the political commitment to volunteerism that was so crucial under the Schaefer mayoralty may be lacking. As terrific as Mrs. Applefeld was, she was effective because she always had Mr. Schaefer's ear. He felt civic mobilization was desperately needed to make Baltimoreans feel better about their city.
Mr. Schmoke can now show that our misgivings are unfounded by attaching similar importance to the Neighbors United initiative. His office ought to lend its authority to the new program so that it can quickly establish itself as an effective channel to get community-related things done.
The success of Neighbors United will not be determined by how many public service media spots tout it but by whether civic organizations feel the clearinghouse can help cut the bureaucratic red-tape that threatens to strangle their festivals and projects.
A telephone hotline quickly goes cold unless it produces results.