Christmas Eve took on a new meaning more than 30 years ago when a philanthropist named Linda Greenberg, formerly of Annapolis, gave her hat to a homeless person.
From that act of generosity, decades of giving began along with a burgeoning volunteer network each holiday season, including one she founded called Giving Back Inc. now with the added moniker "Linda's Legacy" since she stepped down in 2005.
Since its founding, the nonprofit organization grew each year, enveloping the community—both adults and young people—who have helped form what is today, one of the most successful Christmas homeless missions in Maryland.
Continuing the legacy Greenberg started is Steve Anstett of Severna Park, who took over as executive director of the growing philanthropic organization that now draws about 500 volunteers from throughout Anne Arundel County during the holiday season. To honor Greenberg's tireless efforts to help the homeless, Anstett renamed the organization to include Linda's Legacy two years ago.
Anstett started as a volunteer with his sons Rob and Zach about eight years ago and quickly realized the nonprofit's potential for growth. He then helped to expand the organization by starting a backpack program to complement the coat drive.
The volunteers help collect coats at the Farmer's Market on Riva Road in Annapolis the week before Christmas. The coats are then distributed to the homeless living on the streets and in shelters in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, DC, on Christmas Eve.
Public and private schools also help with this project by filling backpacks with donations of clothing. Last year, the schools filled 1,700 backpacks. This season's goal is 2,000-plus, Anstett said.
Last year, 20 truckloads of coats, clothing and toiletries were sent to homeless shelters and those living on the streets on Christmas Eve, more than triple the amount from when Anstett started volunteering.
"While I was volunteering, I realized the organization had the potential for tremendous growth," Anstett said. "I and others stepped up to put more organization around it. Linda had a great skill set and had gotten so many involved."
The coat and backpack drive is a four-month project beginning each year in September by reaching out to organizations and schools to sponsor backpacks. Archbishop Spalding, The School of Incarnation and Severn School in Severna Park are among the private schools that participate in the backpack program each year.
Anstett's priority today is their mission statement, which is changing. He said he sees two equal parts of the organization: first to bring needed items to the homeless, while at the same time creating volunteer opportunities that are educational and rewarding to young people.
He said 80 percent of Giving Back's volunteers are high school students.
"Personally I think it is just as important to instill the importance of volunteering and that it can be fun and rewarding," he said.
Talking about the Christmas Eve deliveries, Anstett said it's more than dropping off items and leaving. Volunteers stay and serve lunch at the homeless shelters whenever possible during the deliveries.
"They not only need a coat, they need fellowship, and someone looking them in the eye and chatting with them," he said. "That is an important part for them. At one shelter we served 300 lunches, it was a special thing for them."
Ready to Volunteer?
When: Tues. - Fri., Dec. 20-23, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Farmer’s Market, Riva Road, Annapolis. Email Info@homelessdrive.com for information. Students can receive community service credit for helping with the homeless drive.
Christmas Eve delivery: There will be six to eight volunteers driving two to three trucks throughout the region.
Another option is to sponsor a backpack in someone's name. Visit www.homelessdrive.com to get started or to make a monetary donation.