Some of Carroll County's neediest families are hoping for white, powdery stuff for Christmas.
They want laundry detergent.
"Last year we had over 50 percent ask for laundry detergent," said Barbara Brown, volunteer coordinator for the Neighbors in Need holiday charity drive.
"It's so expensive and you can't buy it with food stamps," Mrs. Brown said of the detergent. The same goes for shampoo, soap and paper towels.
"We take so much for granted," she said.
By yesterday, 995 Carroll families had registered with Neighbors in Need to be "adopted" for Christmas. By today, the number could top 1,000, and many more are expected before the Dec. 9 deadline, Mrs. Brown said.
That's also the deadline for groups who want to adopt a family. But Mrs. Brown is not likely to turn down any donors nor people who need help.
The deadlines are necessary so distribution can be organized and so the organizers can make sure everybody gets something, she said.
"If somebody came in who was desperate [after the deadline], we would help them," she said.
Donors don't have to adopt a whole family, she said. They can bring in one gift, a few gifts or money for volunteers to use to fill in gaps in donated items.
As in other years, requests for underwear and sweat shirts and sweat pants top the list, as well as detergent to keep them clean all year. Mrs. Brown urges people to bring in underwear and sweats in size large or extra large.
Distribution of the gifts will be Dec. 17 and 18. Families will pick up their gifts at Cranberry Mall in the old Greenfelt's billiard hall space, and food at 10 Distillery Drive, the headquarters of Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., which coordinates several agencies and organizations involved in Neighbors in Need.
Of the 995 families who have asked for Christmas help, 312 also were adopted for Thanksgiving. Another 668 who were not adopted got postcards in the mail inviting them to a free Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by Shepherd's Staff, an ecumenical church organization that formed this year.
The dinner is open to anyone -- not just the needy -- from noon to 3 p.m. tomorrow at St. John School cafeteria on Monroe Street in Westminster. In addition to St. John Catholic Church, 14 others are sponsoring the meal.
When the call for volunteers went out, 190 people applied for 88 slots, said Virginia Stoner, a member of the Meadow Branch Church of the Brethren and an organizer of the event.
"We need guests -- people to partake," Mrs. Stoner said.
Edward Craig, another organizer who is the social concerns director at St. John, said the fellowship of the meal is as important as the food.
"I think a lot of elderly people are alone," he said. "It's a hard time for people who don't have family. It's for people who are lonely, too."
He said he expects a lot of the volunteer families to eat there.
Mrs. Stoner wondered last week whether enough people would show up.
But the organizers are preparing a feast for 500. If fewer than that come to the dinner, the extra food will be given to the Westminster Rescue Mission, Springfield Hospital Center and other places where it will not go to waste, Mr. Craig said.
But if 600 people show up, the volunteers will be able to get more food to feed them, too, Mr. Craig said.
To make the meal a little more festive, sixth-graders from Westminster West Middle School made 500 place mats to set at the tables.
Today, the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen will have a traditional turkey dinner for lunch, which is open to anyone, at Ascension Episcopal Church on North Court Street.
About 60 people usually show up for the traditional pre-Thanksgiving lunch, said Mr. Craig. St. John sponsors the Wednesday meal at Ascension because it is downtown and accessible to people who have no cars.
The soup kitchen operates six days a week, sponsored by a different church or group of churches each day. St. John does the Wednesday meal. For the day before Thanksgiving each year, the church volunteers produce a turkey-and-stuffing affair.
Until this month, Loaves and Fishes had operated five days a week. A group of nine churches came together to start a sixth meal on Fridays at Westminster United Methodist Church.
"As a result of the Friday meal, [the churches] thought, 'Why not a Thanksgiving one, too?' " Mr. Craig said.
Now, the only day when no free meal is served in downtown Westminster is Tuesday. The Loaves and Fishes organizers are hoping volunteers eventually will come forward to fill that day, Mr. Craig said.
Carroll County Food Sunday, the county's year-around food bank, does not have anything different planned for Thanksgiving, said Paul G. Martin, executive officer.
"Generally we don't, unless we get some donations, and we don't have any this year," he said. "A few years ago, we got 200 to 300 turkeys, and we gave those out.
"So many other organizations try to do something special on the holidays, so we don't do that."
The all-volunteer, non-profit Food Sunday has food banks in Westminster, Taneytown and Sykesville.