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One way to help Baltimore

Paying to tour a lavishly decorated Baltimore mansion or one of its opulent gardens while other parts of the city stagger to recover from civil unrest may seem frivolous, if not utterly insensitive.

But that's what I am urging you to do.

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Those of us who are card-carrying members of the white middle classes and who have no idea how we can help a city whose relationship with police is so fraught have a couple of pretty painless ways to do so.

Visit the Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Show House (bsomusic.org/bsa) in Guilford or the Roland Park homes on the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage (www.mhgp.org).

Sounds absurdly clueless, doesn't it?

The poor families across town are angry and afraid and in some cases hungry, and my best idea is to neb nose in houses beyond our wildest imaginings. Sounds very Marie Antoinette of me.

But the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the sponsoring groups in the Home and Garden Pilgrimage plow those ticket dollars back into the community, and they deserve our support.

Not all of us are equipped to broker peace in neighborhoods burdened by decades of racism and institutional neglect. And we can't all deliver bags of groceries, create an internship for a high school student or tutor a handful of first-graders.

But we can spend a very pleasant day and a handful of our dollars doing a little bit of good.

The Baltimore Symphony Associates asked 18 designers to re-imagine the rooms of Oak Acres an 87-year-old neoclassical mansion on North Charles Street, which has been in the Hurlock family since the patriarch built it in 1928. None of us would have been on the guest list at this fabulous home, but it is open for us to tour through May 17.

The money from ticket sales, which have been slowed this year by the riots and the uncertainty that followed, is used to pay for school children from Baltimore City and all around the state to fill the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and listen, and learn, from the orchestra while it plays their favorite Disney music.

The show house, in its 39th year, brings in about $100,000 each year, and that pays for 55,000 children to enjoy the symphony, including just about every first- through fourth-grader in Baltimore city.

And though the musicians donated their time, the money also pays the expenses for events like the symphony's spontaneous open-air concert during the height of the unrest last week and for the concert scheduled for Saturday in West Baltimore, where most of the unrest centered.

That's a pretty good bang for your 30 bucks.

The scope of the Pilgrimage is smaller, but again the money is returned to the Maryland counties where the homes and gardens are located. Their share can range from $5,000 to $50,000 and sponsoring groups, like the Roland Park Women's Club, use it to restore historic churches, buildings and public gardens. And, in the case of Dorchester County this year, a Native American village.

The Roland Park Women's Club will be using its money to restore a garden on Roland Avenue behind the group's house that will be open to the public when it is complete. But this is a group that also contributes money to charities that benefit battered women and the homeless. The eight homes on its tour will be open May 17 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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These are not frivolous suggestions. People like me, who live far from the violence and even further from the suffering that ignited it, have no clue how to help in the short term.

But we are genuinely hurting for the children whose futures are so stunted and for the mothers who live in such fear for those children, because once you have children it is not always easy to discern where your child ends and the lives of other children begin.

For the moment, and it will only last a moment, to walk in a garden or to take in a fanciful room can offer a teaspoonful of solace.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached sreimer@baltsun.com and @Susan Reimer on Twitter.com.

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