For a senior residence, Morningside Park Apartments was bustling with activity. Children and their parents filled the usually quiet hallways Monday afternoon, some pushing grocery carts full of food, others delivering overstuffed supermarket bags door to door.
Once a month, students from Pointers Run Elementary School collect, sort and deliver food to the financially hard-pressed seniors at this Jessup building.
Julie Rosenthal, a board member of the Coalition of Geriatric Services in Howard County, coordinates the monthly program, Food on the 15th.
"A lot of the senior citizens were living Social Security check to Social Security check, and around the middle of the month - the 15th of the month - they were running out of money," she said.
Rosenthal began the program at Pointers Run in September 2006. When her daughter moved to Clarksville Middle, that school's sixth grade joined the effort, collecting groceries for diabetic residents as a yearlong service project.
Rosenthal remembers the morning she realized that "my children couldn't comprehend not having enough to eat. ... They didn't understand that people could come downstairs in the morning and not have food in the fridge."
She guessed that other children in her Clarksville community probably thought the same thing.
In designing Food on the 15th with Pointers Run, Rosenthal wanted students involved in every aspect. Children and parents collect, sort, bag and deliver food to Morningside residents.
"They're seeing a person who's actually getting the food," Rosenthal said. "They're not just dropping a can in a box and not knowing what happens to that can."
The school's PTA and administration supported Food on the 15th immediately, Rosenthal said. Starting with 30 bags of groceries last September, Pointers Run delivered 600 bags to the residents during the school year.
Fulton's New Hope Adventist Church took over in June, July and August so that seniors would get their groceries while school was out.
All of Morningside's residents are 55 or older and live on less than $30,000 a year.
A typical Food on the 15th grocery bag contains nonperishable items, including fruits, vegetables, pasta and breakfast foods. Some bags were so full Monday that they were too heavy for the elementary students to carry. While older children helped sort the food, younger students decorated a card for each senior in the program.
Noah Shapiro, 9, a fourth-grader at Pointers Run, said his mother wanted him to participate in the program last year. "Now I do it because it's fun. It's just a fun atmosphere," he said as he sorted food in the school media center and made deliveries.
Morningside resident William Harmon, 62, gets a phone call when the children are on the way. He stands in the halls directing traffic and delivering a few bags himself.
Harmon said residents "think it's great. They're really very appreciative. I think this is a great thing that they're doing."
Ellen Brown, senior center director at Morningside, said residents "get a kick out of seeing the children do [the deliveries] and show that they can do volunteer work and start at an early age."
That is the lesson that Rhonda Nowacek hoped to teach her students when Clarksville Middle School joined Food on the 15th.
"It's important for children to understand that giving is a part of life. You start young," the sixth-grade team leader said.
Rosenthal visited the school last week to talk with sixth-graders. "They were just popping out with ideas and questions," she said. "There just seems to be a feeling among the kids that they really can make a difference."
Rosenthal estimates that she puts 10 to 15 hours into Food on the 15th the week before deliveries. When she started a new job as director of business development for Prochek Home Inspections and Environmental Testing in April, she told her employer about the service project. Andrew Warde, president and owner of Prochek, let Rosenthal organize the program during work hours.
"We live in one of the most affluent counties in the country, yet there are still issues of hunger," Warde said.
Warde, whose mother is Korean, said, "I grew up in an environment where much more emphasis and respect is given to the elderly. ... Some of the elderly can fall through the cracks in our society. It's wonderful to see somebody doing something to help them."
In addition to Prochek, other local businesses and nonprofits are donating money to buy $10 supermarket gift cards so that seniors can buy fresh milk, meat and produce to supplement their grocery bags, Rosenthal said.
Jenny Mandl, 10, Rosenthal's daughter, said she enjoys working in the program alongside her mother and friends. She said she has learned that "some people have to choose between buying food and [paying for] running water. ... There are actually people who really need this food."
Rosenthal said she wants her daughter and other children "to see that no matter what age you are, you can do something to help people in your community."