While many garden clubs work to shed the dusty image of white-gloved flower-arrangers for a more modern one of community service, the members of the Glen Arm Garden Club are busy helping others, well, arrange flowers.

On this morning in December, members of the club are making their regular visit to Morningside House assisted living in Parkville, where they help a dozen or so residents create flower arrangements for the dining room and another one each can take to her own room.

"It is nice for them to come," said Arsala Ewing, in her holiday-inspired teddy bear sweat shirt. "I come every time they are here."

The Morningside residents sit around a large table in the activity room - some in wheelchairs, others with oxygen tanks, many with walkers - while Carole Warrell, Marion Romans, Lorna Bills and Cindy Goad pass out vases and lots of artificial greens the club members have collected from dollar stores and craft shop sales. They have bags of the stuff, and each of the residents has a variety to choose from.

Meanwhile, Margo Steel sits at another table and cuts the button mums the residents will use for their live arrangements.

"Because of allergies, the arrangements for the dining hall have to be artificial," explains Goad, who organizes the every-other-month visits. The arrangements for individual rooms can have live flowers, and the Glen Arm members have harvested garbage bags of greens and berries from their own gardens.

"I was up early in the snow, banging the ice off my greens," said June Luerssen, dressed in a holiday sweater. "I couldn't get to some of the stuff I wanted."

"We always have a good time," Steel said as she sorts the spray-painted cat food cans the women have collected for months. Each is filled with a water-soaked spongy substance to keep the live arrangements going.

Frankly, today's efforts with the residents of Morningside are a cakewalk. In a couple of days, most of the 40-something members of the garden club will meet to create 150 similar live arrangements for Meals on Wheels.

"That will be a job," Steel says.

Debbie Cavey, Morningside life experience assistant, stands back and watches as the women create, and she smiles at their obvious pleasure. "I like to see them smile. This is one of their favorite activities. They love it."

The Glen Arm Garden Club members understand instinctively what science knows: That contact with nature - even if it is just a few flowers arranged in a cat food can - is an essential human need no matter what the age.

The members also volunteer at the St. Vincent's Center for troubled children in Timonium, where they introduce the children to nature through stories, snacks and crafts.

And, fulfilling the stewardship role that so many garden clubs have embraced, they have for years tended the herb garden at the historic Hampton Mansion in Towson.

On this morning, the garden club members have also given the gift of creativity and decision-making to the dozen or so women whose lives may now be a daily struggle against age and infirmity.

That explains the shocked and delighted look on the face of Evelyn Mack.

Cavey snatched Mack from her spot in the lobby and wheeled her - chair, oxygen and all - into the craft room. She'd not been there for a garden club visit before, but her live flower arrangement drew genuine praise from the members, all of whom know a thing or two about arranging flowers.

"I didn't know I could do something," Mack says, smiling. "I'll come back here again."

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