With less than two weeks to go until their shop opens in a new location in Westminster, volunteers began last week setting up and sorting donated toys, clothes and other gifts for the nonprofit Neighbors in Need program.
Although the volunteers are weeks behind, the 17-year-old holiday charity event will pull through as it always does, said Joyce Tierney, director of the family center of the nonprofit Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., which runs Neighbors in Need.
"We have a lot of elves here today," Tierney said, showing off the new layout Friday, as volunteers were wrapping large cardboard boxes in holiday paper.
The city of Westminster was sending more tables and had a three-man crew putting up a banner at the entrance.
Joan S. McKee, deputy director of Human Services Programs, looked for a new place almost up to Thanksgiving.
This year a paying tenant took the space the program had occupied since November 2001 in TownMall of Westminster.
Then Adelphia Channel 3 volunteered the use of most of its building at 265 Clifton Blvd., off Woodward Road, near the Westminster post office.
"We just moved in Wednesday ... and we've really started moving things," Tierney said. "It really is organized chaos."
Neighbors in Need allows eligible families to select items during its two-day run, this year on Dec. 16 and 17, she said.
The families send applications that are verified by a Human Services caseworker. Participants are then given an appointed time to visit the shop to select their gifts. They also receive food vouchers from area stores.
"We know to hide some of the good stuff so day two has good things, too," Tierney said.
This isn't the first time Neighbors in Need has had to look for a new space.
In 2000 it helped 1,171 families, but in March 2001 lost its storefront in the Westminster Shopping Center when the owner found a paying tenant.
Last year, the program served about 3,500 people, said Tierney, including about 1,500 people who were adopted by Boy Scout troops, neighborhood associations, churches or individuals.
Those not adopted may select gifts from the shop.
The shop depends on donated items. The program seeks new gifts, Tierney said, "something that people would like to have themselves."
When they visit, family members are assigned an "elf" to guide them through the store.
Don't forget teens
Inside the building Friday, a hand-drawn map helped volunteers place items in designated rooms.
Cher Sheatler of Hanover, Pa., had taken on the task of running the all-ages underwear room, where one donor had fashioned white socks with a red ribbon into candy canes.
Fleece hats and gloves and baby-sized slippers were grouped into another box.
In another room, Kate Kramer was sorting girls and boys clothing, and waiting for her tables.
But as always, the room designated for toys for children ages 4 to 12 was fuller than the others, with a colorful array of baby dolls and Barbies, games, trucks, building blocks, and popular characters such as Harry Potter, Shrek, Winnie the Pooh and Spider-Man.
Bags of stuffed animals awaited sorting, and a blue critter - Jumbah the Boohbah - would jiggle periodically when someone pressed his button in the infant-to-toddler toy room, where a classic Radio Flyer tricycle sat in a box by the door.
"Girls' and boys' toys - people just love to buy them," said Tierney. But "we're always asking for people to keep in mind that teenagers need presents, too. It's lots of fun to shop for babies and little children. Also our senior citizens."
The group is always seeking volunteers - and donations, she said.
Although they usually have some items left over to store for the next year, she said, "We have little to start with this year."
But, she predicted, "You'll see those cars roll in. ... Our community always comes through."
One husband and wife make donations to the program as their gift to each other, she said.
Some donors come to the door, and ask: "'What do you need the most?,' then they go off and shop and come back with it."
"You hear stories like that all the time," she said. "These rooms were empty two days ago. ... We hope this year again our tables will be groaning."