MEGAN LEAF knows about hospitals and kids. The Fallston High School freshman has been in and out of medical institutions since she was 3 years old. She has a genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis, that causes tumors in her body.
That enduring experience inspired her four years ago to begin putting together boxes of toys, trinkets and activity kits to entertain the young patients at the Johns Hopkins Children Center. "Love boxes" she calls them, an expression of her abiding care for others and a first-hand understanding of their needs.
"I just know that it's boring to be in the hospital," says the Harford County teen-ager, who came up with the idea after seeing other people preparing CARE packages. "Kids need something to do, to have something of their own."
Her selfless example has earned Megan deserved national recognition. Last month she was inducted into the Kids' Hall of Fame in Washington, a program recognizing youngsters under 15 years of age who are making a positive difference in the world. She also received the National Golden Rule Award, along with $10,000 in cash and a college scholarship, from the J.C. Penney Co. program to honor outstanding voluntarism.
Megan's project grew from her recognition of a specific need and a giving nature. The initial aim was modest: Her first hand-decorated boxes of toys and coloring books were filled with donations and items from her family. Then she expanded the appeal to the local 4-H Club, her school and the community.
Since 1991, she has provided some 7,000 "love boxes" to the children's hospital center in Baltimore. The boxes these days are gift bags, which are easier to fill and carry, she notes. And the Golden Rule award is being used to buy more materials to carry on her volunteer project.
Megan Leaf's lesson, for young and old, is that true charity is more than a donation or a monetary gift. Its essence is personal caring and the giving of one's talents to an identified human need. She saw that and gathered her available resources to meet it.
The challenge is unending, and Megan continues to serve the hospitalized children with whom she can readily relate. Achieving national honors was not her goal. Helping to brighten the lives of children was, and is.