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Letters from the Homefront: No Stop to Volunteering

The following “Letters from the Homefront” account is part of our new initiative, Collecting in Quarantine. Inspired by the poignant letters in the Maryland Historical Society collection documenting past adversities from the Spanish flu of 1918, to the Annapolis yellow fever epidemics of 1793 and 1800, MdHS is calling on Marylanders to send their personal stories of how the pandemic is impacting their lives.

Shahra Toth and Cathy Gold volunteering
Photo courtesy of Patricia Fanning. From left to right, Shahra Toth and Cathy Gold

April 28, 2020 – On this day, Patricia Fanning from Columbia writes:

On Monday, April 13, 2020, several volunteers led by coordinators Nancy Winchester and Shahra Toth – all parishioners of Christ Episcopal Church – fulfilled its long-standing commitment to feed the hungry on the second Monday of every month. Instead of providing our usual lunch in Jessup at Rt. 1/Dorsey Center Day Resource Center, which is closed due to the coronavirus, we supplied an evening meal for another arm of the Howard County nonprofit.

Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center is the parent organization that helps the homeless and others in need in multiple ways. As part of its response to restrictions imposed to avoid COVID-19, Grassroots set up an online signup system so that groups and individuals can take responsibility for dinner slots. Options are to order restaurant deliveries to support the local workforce, to buy 12 rotisserie chickens, or to provide a meal that can include homemade dishes. Christ Church opted for the same menu we had been serving to the friends at the Dorsey Center, which involves food preparation in parishioners’ kitchens as well as trips to supermarkets. Steps were carried out with precautions to avoid viral transmission.

When volunteers arrived at the church parking lot, they were careful to practice social distancing and everyone wore masks. Shahra and parishioners Dee Bauer, Cathy Gold, and Patricia Fanning delivered items for the menu to Nancy’s vehicle after she had already picked up our usual  – and very popular – entree, fried chicken from Weis. Another regular dish, homemade cheesy potatoes, was on the menu. Shahra made three desserts  – Ghirardelli pecan brownies, lemon-blueberry-yogurt pound cake, and her perennial that is a parish favorite: crustless coconut custard.

Usually the volunteers and coordinators serve the food and have the pleasure of interacting with the people eating it, many of whom express their compliments to the chef(s). But those friends, as they are known, must now do without hot meals and instead pick up foodstuffs and other supplies at curbside.

“You have to put it in perspective,” said Shahra. “It’s so hard to reach out to everyone in these times, and I’m so happy that Nancy was able to put together a plan. Even though we’re not going to see the person being served, I’m thrilled we are able to reach out.”

Nancy delivered everything to Grassroots’ live-in facility on Freetown Road, where staff members carried the items from her vehicle to reduce risk. Later, one of them was gracious enough to photograph our bountiful spread, which was more than enough for 50 people. The Christ Church crew plans to repeat the routine on a Monday in May. And maybe in June, if need be.

Please note: The views, information, and opinions expressed and shared on the underbelly through the Collecting in Quarantine project do not necessarily represent those of the Maryland Historical Society. Our staff does not verify for accuracy the information contained within these submissions. We also do not edit the content beyond minor modifications for formatting or to remove personally identifying information, if applicable. Just like the historic letters in our collection, each letter presents the writer’s own perspective. The primary purpose of this series, with the permission of contributors, is to share and collect the experiences of Marylanders living through the COVID-19 crisis at this moment in time.

To learn more about the Collecting in Quarantine project and how to share a story of your own, click here.