Carroll County residents are filling cardboard cartons with simple supplies and writing checks to help those whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed half a world away in Southeast Asia.
Earthquake and tsunami survivors need help with everything from medicines to hygiene products. At the County Office Building in Westminster and the five branches of the public library, contributors can give a plastic bag filled with grooming aids or baby blankets wrapped around layette items, or they can write a check.
The announcement of a relief effort, sponsored by the county commissioners, listed items needed. It went out late Tuesday, and by midmorning yesterday, five health kits and a layette were in the carton in the lobby of the office building.
"The response to anything like this has always been good," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "This will be, too, once people understand that their donations will be going to the right place."
The county will make sure all donations go to the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, where various relief agencies will ship the gifts to the devastated areas.
Sponsorship by elected officials could help spur donations, said Vivian D. Laxton, Carroll's public information administrator.
"Any time that there is a disaster of this scale, government has a leadership role to provide," she said.
Donors can put together a small kit, filling a sealable, 1-gallon plastic bag with a hand towel, a washcloth, a comb, a metal nail file, a bar of soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste and six Band-Aids. Or, they can make a baby kit by wrapping six cloth diapers, two shirts, two washcloths, two sleepers and a sweater in two receiving blankets secured with diaper pins.
Church World Service, which has offices at the New Windsor center, also needs monetary gifts. It costs $12 for a health kit, $35 for a baby kit, and $1 to ship each package. Interchurch Medical Assistance, another agency at the center, has already shipped tons of medicines and medical supplies to Sri Lanka, one of the hardest-hit nations. The relief agency is preparing a shipment for Indonesia this week.
"We are seeing an immediate response now, but this effort will go on for a much longer time," said Vickie Johnson, Interchurch spokeswoman. "We have never dealt with a disaster of this scope. The magnitude, the number of countries and the death toll far outstrip anything we have experienced."
The warehouse normally filled with supplies for disaster response is emptying rapidly, she said.
"We are quickly depleting our stocks and will have to replenish," Johnson said. "Cash contributions will help us move things as quickly as possible."
Carroll County answers calls for help, Gouge said. During severe flooding in the Midwest several years ago, county crews transported hay to farmers there. County employees collect food for the needy every holiday season and participate in clothing drives that generally result in new hats, mittens and scarves for children.
The gifts collected through Jan. 14 will help young and old tsunami survivors keep themselves clean and healthy.
"This is a generous area," Gouge said. "We are fortunate here that we are in good shape and can give."
Laxton said the library locations should "make it as easy as possible for people in Carroll County to participate. All they have to do is go to the library closest to home."
In Eldersburg, Cathy Welsh, the library's circulation clerk, set out an empty copy paper box for the collection, certain it would fill up quickly. The circulation desk in each branch will also accept monetary donations.
"The people here in the county are fairly generous, so we expect a good response," Welsh said.
The desire to help is spreading to schools and service organizations. The Mount Airy American Legion has pledged the proceeds from its Jan. 22 dinner dance to the relief effort. Several Carroll schools have launched collection drives.
The Kids Helping Kids club at Northwest Middle School in Taneytown will collect money to help the Brethren center purchase supplies.
"Our kids willingly open their pockets at lunchtime and give us their change," said Ellen Bower, the club's founder and adviser. "Some of them came up to us and said, 'I've given up my ice cream for the day.'"
Yesterday, the group collected nearly $100 in three lunch periods, Bower said. This is the third community service project tackled by the more than 80 student club members this year.
"They just continually want to do more, more, more," Bower added.
The Media Center and Key Club at South Carroll High School in Sykesville are also raising funds for disaster relief. Sophomore Nick Thompson is getting his schoolmates involved. Although the drive officially starts Monday, faculty members, the student government association and other clubs have already pledged their support. Students with money cans will also be circulating in the lunchroom asking for donations from their classmates.
"I talked to quite a few of my friends, and they said they'd help out," Thompson said. "We have other drives during the school year, but this is one thing that people really seem to care about."
The collection began Tuesday and will continue through Jan. 14.
Suggested donations include:
Toothbrushes and toothpaste
Clotheslines and clothespins
Bars of soap
Five-gallon buckets with resealable lids
Flexible, clear plastic shoeboxes with lids