Remember the little children.
That's what Howard County churches and child advocacy groups will do today through Sunday as they mark the statewide observance of the annual weekend known as the Children's Sabbath.
The event is part of a yearlong Maryland campaign, co-sponsored by the Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth, the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council and other groups, to highlight the problem of children in poverty.
Several Howard congregations will devote Sunday services to children's issues. One church, Columbia United Christian Church, will sponsor a forum at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, on how federal and state budget cuts affect the lives of children.
The Children's Sabbath was begun about four years ago by the Children's Defense Fund. The events come after County Executive Charles I. Ecker proclaimed the Children's Sabbath for the first time in Howard County on Sept. 27.
Although Maryland is the nation's sixth wealthiest state, it has 124,000 children living in poverty, said Jan Schmidt, community outreach program director for Advocacy for Children and Youth.
And in Howard -- one of the richest counties in the state -- about 1,489 children receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children. More than 2,700 are on Medicaid, Ms. Schmidt said, and 1,500 receive free lunches.
"That's too many for a county that should be able to take care of all of its children," she said.
The religious community can help turn things around, she said. "They really build the moral fiber of a community. We need to look to our congregations for leadership."
The Rev. Douglas Hunt, pastor for Columbia United Christian Church, agrees that churches must play a role.
"When I'm hurting, it's a physical problem. When my neighbor hurts, it's a spiritual problem," Mr. Hunt said. "For there to be children in this country living in abject poverty there's a spiritual problem."
His congregation is among those that will distribute cardboard dolls, which will be mailed to legislators to stress the importance of child well-being. "Each represents a real child somewhere in Maryland," Mr. Hunt said.