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Convoy of Hope helps people in need locally

September 22, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • People line up to receive a bag of produce at Convoy of Hope on Saturday.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

For most of her 34 years, Angelique Taylor was on the outside looking in, wondering what life was like for the seemingly perfect middle-class — the people who went to college, had a career and a home in the suburbs.

Her life had been so different.

One of three children, she was raised by a single mother and lived in a crime-riddled neighborhood in Baltimore.

She dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, became pregnant and found herself without a job and on welfare.

Taylor always had wanted a better life, she said, but bad choices had her at the lowest rung of poverty.

“I was fully aware of what I had done and didn’t like it,” she said. “I was determined to do better.”

It’s been about 12 years since Taylor shed the last layer of her former self — the young girl who grew up too fast and didn’t know how to achieve her dreams.

She went back to school, received her high school equivalency and found a job that enabled her to get off public assistance.

But her proudest accomplishment, Taylor said, was getting a nursing degree.

“I fought long and hard to get to that point,” she shared. I worked a lot of low-paying jobs. I struggled to put food on the table and pay the bills. And there were days when it would have been easy to give up. But I didn’t.”

Although “the past is the past,” Taylor said she hasn’t forgotten where she came from and how others are trying to turn their lives around, too.

“Sometimes, they just need a helping hand,” she noted.

So Saturday morning, she headed to Fairgrounds Park in Hagerstown and tried to make someone else’s burdens just a little bit lighter.

Taylor, who now lives in Hagerstown, was among the hundreds of people who volunteered their time and energy for Convoy of Hope — an annual community outreach event that this year provided about $1 million in goods and services to area residents in need.

A sea of tents was set up throughout the park providing a variety of services that ranged from free groceries and dental care to a job fair and hair cuts.

Convoy of Hope is a nonprofit organization that mobilizes churches and groups to help make a difference in their communities.

This is the fifth year the event has been held locally, with Hope for Hagerstown serving as a partner.

Organizers said this year’s outreach program was expected to equal or top last year’s attendance of 5,600 people.

“I know we’ve had a very long line since we opened the gates,” said Michele Waldvogel, a volunteer who was helping to hand out bags of free food near the park’s entrance.

“We’ve been distributing potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers — a little bit of everything,” Waldvogel said.

About 38,000 pounds of fresh produce and 34,000 pounds of dry goods had been donated by the Maryland Food Bank, Western Branch.

A volunteer with the Ellicott City (Md.) Assembly of God, Waldvogel said her group also participated in the Convoy of Hope event in Frederick a month ago.

“I’ve seen a lot of people in need,” she said. “I’ve also seen a lot of people who appreciate that something like this is offered.”

Kimberly Buchanan, director of development with the Washington County Community Action Council, said Convoy of Hope “is one of the biggest events for us, as far as number of people. We try to make it to every local outreach program but, especially, this one.”

Buchanan said she was providing information to anyone interested in learning more about the services provided by the Community Action Council.

Among the programs receiving the most attention was the Maryland Energy Assistance Program, she said. If individuals qualify, they receive help with 25 percent of their electric and heating bill.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people today,” Buchanan said. “I’ve also seen a lot of people who, for the first time, are asking for help.”

Less than two hours into the event, more than 500 people had signed up to have a family portrait taken.

“It might seem odd to have something like this at Convoy of Hope, but, to many people, this is a luxury, something they typically couldn’t afford,” said Melanie Anderson, a Hagerstown photographer who was donating her time and talent.

Anderson said this is the fourth year she has participated in the event and does it “because it’s such a blessing, not just for the community, but for those of us who want to give back.”

Last year, 1,408 people had their portrait taken “and we expect to see the same number, if not more, this year,” she said.

Anderson was among a handful of volunteer photographers, along with eight printers, working nonstop.

“People have been so grateful for this opportunity,” she said. “Some of them come back every year because they consider it such a treasure.”

Donna Urbik of Hagerstown said she arrived early to the event to make sure she could take advantage of the free shoes being distributed.

“Last year, I didn’t get here in time and they ran out of shoes. I have two boys, so this is something that’s very helpful. Shoes can be very expensive, especially with kids and their growing feet,” she noted.

Larry Hills said this is the first year he has attended Convoy of Hope and was impressed with everything that was available.

“You don’t like to ask for help. But when you have to, it’s nice that there are people willing to lend a hand,” the Hagerstown man said.

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