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A new champion for Children in Need

July 08, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

For 22 years, Anne Martin sewed draperies, until she got tired of climbing ladders to hang her work. But instead of retiring, Martin has taken on what seems like an even tougher task - as the first full-time director of Washington County's Children in Need.

Founded by the late Art Richards and others, the agency's mission is to make sure no local child has to go to school in ragged clothes or without school supplies.

Martin and a small army of volunteers are gearing up now for the start of a new school year. If it sounds a little early to be doing that, it isn't, she said, because there is so much to do.

By the time school starts on Wednesday, Aug. 22, the agency will have put together 2,000 bags of school supplies, all "appropriate for students' grade levels," Martin said.

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"We have 1,400 children on our books, but up to 8,000 are eligible," she said, adding that the caseload has been growing by one-third each year.

To get supplies and school clothes, students must be on a list of those eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

Asked if anyone tries to get things they're not entitled to, Martin said that in the past two years, only two ineligible families have made such an attempt. Those who come for help are truly in need, she said.

The agency raises most of its funds from community donations, Martin said, adding that it recently became a member agency of the United Way.

"We're also writing a lot of grants," Martin said.

If you have gently used boys' and girls' clothing and shoes, the agency can redistribute them. Jeans are especially welcome, Martin said.

Clothing should be cleaned first and brought to the Children in Need office, located in the rear of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, at 131 W. North Ave., in Hagerstown, between 8 a.m. and noon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

One thing the center will not accept is used underwear, Martin said, adding that if it comes in, "it goes right in the trash."

If that sounds wasteful, consider this: Would you want to wear someone's old underwear?

Probably not. So if you'd like to donate those garments, bring them new in the package to the center. The same rule applies to socks.

"We need any size, including adult," Martin said, because some of the children who wear adult-sized clothing.

If you have access to or would like to purchase school supplies, the packages given out include (depending on the child's age) pencils, pens, spiral notebooks, filler paper, highlighters, Sharpies and pencil boxes.

But the organization also needs cash, to fill the packages with what's not donated and to give each child a voucher to make sure that he or she can start school with at least one new outfit.

"The whole idea is about the kids, to keep them in school," she said.

Children in Need is an outgrowth of a program that was once run by pupil personnel workers at the Washington County Public Schools.

Each year my service club, Hagers-town Exchange, donated $1,500 to the effort and the year I was president, I decided to look into whether the families getting new clothes were truly needy.

At that time, K-Mart had agreed to accept the vouchers and opened early to let parents shop. When they came in, no one looked as if they had two spare nickels to rub together.

Martin has taken a volunteer agency and done some great things with bit. Together with volunteers Pat Casavant and Marjie Cramer, they've cleaned up the space so that they can store twice the clothes that they once did. A bathroom that had been closed and used for storage has been reopened, which means volunteers can have that amenity while they're working.

I met Martin, though I didn't know it at the time, when I took a woman and her daughter who had been homeless to the center to get school clothes.

The mother was overwhelmed and began to cry. Martin hugged her, told her it was going to be all right and began to show her some school clothes her daughter might like.

Can any of us be sure that we won't ever be in need? Barring those who are independently wealthy, many of us are just a few paychecks a way from financial disaster.

If you can help, please send a check to Children in Need, 131 W. North Ave., Hagerstown, MD 21740.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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