On Thanksgiving Day, 15-year-old Boy Scout John Ryan Anderson of Columbia will help the woman known as the Mother Teresa of Baltimore feed thousands of poor and homeless people at her Baltimore headquarters.
The ninth-grader at Atholton High School visited homeless advocate Bea Gaddy's Baltimore headquarters earlier this month to learn how he could help with her annual event, which fed 20,000 last year.
In the process of collecting canned food and winter coats for Ms. Gaddy's clients, John hopes to fulfill the community service requirement that will let him advance from Life Scout to the top rank of Eagle Scout in Troop No. 613 in Columbia.
"I remember hearing last Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays that she'd helped so many people," he said.
Wearing his beige Boy Scout shirt, he stood beside Ms. Gaddy one recent afternoon in the front room of her Patterson Park Emergency Food Center, discussing his project.
"It's going to be a job," the 61-year-old homeless advocate warned John. She told him she wanted him to collect coats and 5,000 cans of food in the county and bring them to her on Thanksgiving to distribute to the needy.
At Ms. Gaddy's invitation, John, his mother and his troop will help give food bags to people who show up at Ms. Gaddy's center that day. It's important for everyone, both young and old, to help feed the poor and homeless, she said.
Ms. Gaddy said that this year's donations have been lower than last year's because of an article published in The Sun last May that cited poor and incomplete record keeping and sloppy accounting at her emergency food center.
Yesterday, Ms. Gaddy said she had complied with every records request made by the Internal Revenue Service and had made her tax documents available for public inspection. But the decline in contributions because of the controversy adds urgency to the Columbia youth's project.
It was John's father who gave him the idea to help Ms. Gaddy, the young man said. John had said he wanted to do more than a routine Eagle Scout project.
"I figure anybody could be a homeless person," said John. "Your job could go . . . and you can end up on the street the next day. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy."
So far, John has collected about 4,000 cans of food and 160 coats. To get the donations, he went door-to-door, ran announcements in local newspapers and collected items at local supermarkets.
And there is no question that his project will help to fill a need. Last Thanksgiving, Ms. Gaddy's volunteers began distributing food at 10 a.m., and it disappeared quickly.
John, meanwhile, remains awed by his partner and her work. "She's a nice lady. She's very neat," he said. "I don't know how she helps everybody and not get a headache. That's a lot of people. She's cool to me."