Young Adam Foote shivered as he stood downtown in the cold rain yesterday, waiting to hand out his Christmas bundles.
"I left my coat in the car," he explained through chattering teeth, as he hugged his sweat shirt to his body.
The 10-year-old Ellicott City youth shivered through the rest of the morning, as he and his best friend Phil Boccuzzi spent their fourth consecutive Christmas Eve handing out brightly colored bags of clothes and food to the needy in downtown Baltimore.
"It's kind of fun," said Phil, 11. "The people talk to you and say nice things to you. It makes you feel really special."
Working near police headquarters, their first recipient, a man in a long, gray overcoat and black pants, was one of the few reluctant to accept their generosity.
"No, no, I don't need it. That's OK," he said.
But, after some explanation from their escort, Officer Roosevelt Hammett Jr., the man finally took the green and red "Santa Sack" from the boys.
"He kept saying, 'All this, just for me?' " Officer Hammett said.
Since 1990, the two friends have collected items from their neighbors to distribute to those less fortunate on Christmas Eve.
"They are good buddies and do all kinds of things together," said Phil's father, Jack Boccuzzi. "This is one of the more unselfish things they do."
Four years ago, the boys -- then ages 6 and 7 -- were walking home from school around Thanksgiving when they were struck by the sight of a homeless man.
"We saw this person on the street and didn't think he looked very happy," Phil said.
"Yeah, we noticed he didn't have a lot of stuff," Adam said. "We just woke up one day and decided to do it."
Their parents assumed they just wanted to send some things to a charity, said Adam's father, Todd Foote.
MA "But Adam said, no, I actually want to hand them the things,"
Mr. Foote recalled.
That year, the boys collected a few hats, scarves and other odds and ends. With help from family acquaintances in the Baltimore Police Department, they handed them out to the homeless.
"They were pretty timid," Mr. Foote recalled, adding that the city officers took the boys to places where needy and homeless people gathered. "As their parents, we were a little nervous, too, with them going up to strangers and all. But they really got into it."
Each fall, the boys ask families in their neighborhood for clothes, nonperishable foods and other items for the homeless. The boys
bundle them into packages, making sure each has some food, warm clothing or a blanket, and perhaps a small gift, Mr. Foote said.
"My wife and I go out and buy things they are missing," he said, and the Boccuzzis do the same. "We try to round out the packages and make sure each has the exact same thing."
Experience has taught the boys what items are most appropriate, Mr. Boccuzzi said. For example, Adam and Phil decided to include peanut butter and crackers this year rather than canned goods because the snacks are lighter and easier to open, he said.
"I was pretty impressed," Mr. Boccuzzi said. "It really showed that they were thinking about it."
Through the years, the project has grown, and neighbors have become more generous with their donations, Mr. Foote said. This year, sleeping bags, blankets and nearly $200 worth of canned goods were donated.
But some of the items, such as the toys Adam and Phil collected, didn't really fit the bill for the homeless, Mr. Foote said.
With the help of radio station WWMX (106.5), they found a recipient and made a trip to Hampstead Friday night to drop off gifts to a family whose father suffers from cancer and emphysema, Mr. Foote said. The mother has been working two jobs to provide for her husband and their four children, he said.
"We called, got the ages of the children and all their sizes," Mr. Foote said. "We had the truck filled when we drove up there [Friday] night."