toys for tots logo
Each year, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program works to brighten the lives of less fortunate children throughout the United States with its annual toy drive. From October to December, the organization works with local communities to accept donations of new toys to be distributed at Christmas time. Their mission is simple: to deliver a message of hope to one of the nation’s most valuable resources—its children. This week, Friday Focus talked with Staff Sergeant Brett Wagner, a coordinator from King George County, VA, who shared some information about the organization and one particularly special instance of how Toys for Tots was able to touch a family in need.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)
A: The mission of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?
A: I was very touched when we were able to support a family that just lost their house due to a fire two days before Christmas, but there are a few stories that are similar that happen almost every year.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: Getting toys early in the campaign season. A lot of people tend to wait until closer to Christmas to begin their shopping, but we need to get the toys to the families as soon as we can.

Q: How can people get involved this holiday season?
A: There are many ways to support the program. Volunteering in the warehouse and donations are the primary things that come to mind.

Want to make the holiday season brighter for a child in your community? Our St. Mary’s, Calvert and King George branches are currently accepting donations on behalf of Toys for Tots (all Charles County donations will support the Children’s Aid Society).

holiday trail logo
The holiday season is in the air in Charles County as several historic and contemporary sites come together to form the 2013 Holiday Trail! Working behind the scenes to coordinate the effort is Kate Zabriskie, who came up with the idea last Christmas as a creative way to promote tourism in Charles County. Her vision was quickly embraced by local organizations, with 10 groups agreeing to participate in the trail’s first season. As part of this week’s Friday Focus, Kate spoke with us about the trail and provided details about how and when to go.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, etc.)

A: The Charles County Holiday Trail is composed of historic and cultural sites in Charles County. The purpose of the trail is to share these landmarks with locals and visitors alike. The Trail is exciting because it marks the first time that all of the sites have been open on the same weekend, December 6-8, 2014.

The participating landmarks include:

The African American Heritage Society
Mount Carmel of Port Tobacco
Friendship House
Kris Kingle Christmas Market at the Charles County Fair
A Holiday Arts Faire (located at the Kris Kingle Christmas Market)
Mattawoman Creek Art Center
Mount Aventine at Chapman State Park
Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum
Smallwood Retreat House
Thomas Stone National Historic Site

Q: What has been your favorite "moment" (example of how your organization helped)?

A: This is our first year promoting our sites together, and the most exciting part of the effort is the realization that the sites are working toward the same goal and can share resources, lessons learned, contacts and strategies.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: The biggest challenge is getting the word out. People from the County will tell you they haven't been to some of these sites in years—or ever, for that matter. For those new the County, many don't even know these places exist.

Q: How can people really help?

A: The public is invited to visit the sites the weekend of December 6-8. They can also visit our website, where they can connect with us via social media. Additionally, businesses, organizations or individuals can include this informational text in newsletters, Facebook posts, etc.

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?

A: Realize that nothing is below you. At some point, you will probably end up cleaning dirty bathrooms before an event. On that same note, however, there will usually be more to do than you can ever get done. Choose what you will work on wisely. Always be in recruit mode and never forget to say thank you!

Want to experience the Holiday Trail for yourself? Here’s what you need to know:

The trail begins on Friday, December 6 with the Kris Kringle Christmas Market at the Charles County Fair. Admission is $1 or one non-perishable food item. All admission will go to the Southern Maryland Food Bank. Modelled after the markets in Germany, visitors can expect plenty of food, lights, greens, art, music, shopping and a living nativity.

food bank logo
For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time of plenty: our tables overflow with an assortment of holiday dishes, we go back for seconds (and maybe even thirds) before declaring ourselves too full to move. But as the holiday approaches, it’s important to remember that there are people in our community who are not as fortunate. Leading the charge against hunger in the Tri-County area is Brenda DiCarlo, Director of the Southern Maryland Food Bank. We caught up with Brenda for this week’s Friday Focus, where she shared her organization’s story.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: The Southern Maryland Food Bank has been serving the Tri-County area of Southern Maryland for 30 years and has been easing the pain of hunger since we began in 1983.  We provide supportive services and bulk food to nearly 40 pantries, group homes, soup kitchens and shelters in our area.  These sites rely on us for 50 to 100 percent of their weekly food supply, so that they can provide food to those experiencing food insecurity in their communities.  We also provide SNACK Sak bags to 96 children in five St. Mary County Public Schools, who are living in crisis situations.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: Our favorite bittersweet moment was recently when we distributed over 1 million pounds of food to the community during our 30th fiscal year.  It was a milestone for such a small program, however, knowing that there was that much need in our community enlightened us as to how much more we still need to do to ease the pain of hunger.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Our challenges are many. We are in constant need of food donations, financial donations to purchase food with or expand our services and staffing. We currently only have three people on staff (two full time and one part time) to service the entire Tri-County area.

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?

A: Always remember that we ourselves could easily be in the same situation as those we serve, so be kind and non-judgmental to those requesting services.

Q: How can people get involved this holiday season?

A: Food drives are a great way to get involved and to support those in need. You can also contact us or any pantry that may need extra help during the busy season of giving and receiving.
As you give thanks this year, remember to give back! You can support the Southern Maryland Food Bank by donating to their holiday food drive at our branches.

fairy godmother logo
As a fairly recent addition to Southern Maryland’s non-profit scene, the Fairy Godmother Project provides assistance to families of children battling pediatric cancer. This week’s Friday Focus caught up with Vicki Hoffman, the project’s chapter coordinator, who spoke to us about the organization’s work and one particularly special experience with a family it was able to help.

Q: Tell us about your organization. Who do you serve?

A: Fairy Godmother Project began in Fredericksburg, VA in 2011. The mission of the organization is to ease the burden of families who have a child in treatment for a form of pediatric cancer.

Fairy Godmother Project supports parents in crisis so they can spend more quality time with their children. Day-to-day tasks and household chores take a backseat when you have a sick child. These parents in pediatric cancer families need extra support because what they are facing is unimaginable. Some of our services include: meals, lawn care, professional house cleaning, date nights, haircuts and professional photography. Gas cards are also donated to these families to help ease the cost of gas for endless trips to the doctor’s office.

Since the organization’s formation in Fredericksburg, two more chapters have been added to our service area, one in Richmond, Virginia in 2012 and another here in Southern Maryland in the summer of 2013.

Southern Maryland’s chapter currently has over 20 volunteers and currently serves two area families and the requests continue to come. We currently serve only Charles and St. Mary’s Counties. Our goals for 2014 are to add two more families and would like to add Calvert County to our service area.

Q: What has been your favorite “moment”?

A: Recently one of our children suffering from cancer was honored at a local sporting event as a community hero. Our chapter coordinator, Vicki Hoffman, who also served as this family’s lead volunteer, had the privilege of spending the game with this family and all extended relatives. She was honored to meet grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and many more. She was welcomed with hugs and much gratitude and introduced as “the fairy godmother”. She was so humbled to be called “family” by this wonderful group of people. Their appreciation that day and the invitation into their lives was by far the best moment. Vicki was moved to tears and was ever so confident that her hard work in bringing this organization to the Southern Maryland community was one of the best decisions she has made and this “job” was by far the best and most rewarding.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your organization?

A: Our biggest challenge so far is being able to serve all of the families in the Southern Maryland area in need. We are looking to increase our volunteer base in order to be able to meet this need and have concentrated a great deal during our first year on fundraising in order to be able to service any family that may apply for assistance.

Q: How can people really help?

A: We are always looking for volunteers to help with meal making, fundraising, and in many other roles and capacities. We have many different opportunities ranging from a few hours a month to a few hours a week. All volunteers must go through an application process, and can apply online at www.fairygodmotherproject.org. We are also always in need of donations to help us further our mission to ease the burden of everyday life for these families. In order to provide services to one family for one year, we must raise $5,000.

Q: Advice for someone looking to work for a non-profit:

A: Non-profits can be the most rewarding job you will ever undertake. You need to be a very organized person and be prepared to juggle many tasks at once. Non- profits are a tremendous amount of work, but just knowing that you are giving back and making a difference in the lives of others makes it all worthwhile.

Q: Do you have any upcoming events?

A: Our second annual Silent Auction Fundraiser Event is currently being planned for the Spring. Please like us on Facebook Fairy Godmother Project Southern Maryland Chapter or visit our website to keep current with our upcoming events.