Olney families, organizations make Thanksgiving special for those in need -- Gazette.Net


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By 7 a.m. Sunday, the Rinaldi family of Olney was perusing the aisles of Giant Food, with shopping list and coupons in hand.

Like many families, Steve and Jean Rinaldi had a busy weekend planned, but they were determined to make their annual shopping trip to purchase items for a Thanksgiving basket to donate to a needy family through Montgomery County’s Holiday Giving Project, coordinated through St. Peter’s Catholic Church.

The Rinaldis are just one of many families who, in the spirit of giving, ensure that local families in need are able to enjoy the holidays.

The Holiday Giving Project has been operating for more than 30 years. Families are referred by case workers, guidance counselors, religious organizations or participating nonprofit organizations. The number of people served depends on the amount of donations.

St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Olney coordinates the efforts of individuals and organizations to provide Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner and children’s Christmas gifts for families in the northeast corner of the county, including Olney, Ashton, Sandy Spring, Brookeville, Laytonsville, and Brinklow.

“This year, we provided baskets for 207 families—50 more from last year,” said Cathy Gibson, who has served as St. Peter’s program coordinator for at least 18 years. “We have enough for Thanksgiving, but we are looking for 50 more for Christmas.”

Gibson said the project was successful because of basket donations from individuals and organizations, including Salem United Methodist Church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Emmanuel-Brinklow Seventh Day Adventist Church, Shaare Tefila Congregation, St. John’s Episcopal School, IBM in Gaithersburg, and Lockheed Martin in Rockville. In addition to Christmas baskets, she said they are collecting $25 gift cards to Target, Kmart, Best Buy, T.J.Maxx and Olney Toys. They request gift cards so parents can buy their children holiday gifts they really want.

The Rinaldis said they started the tradition of donating a Thanksgiving basket before they had children. They don’t have to prepare a meal for themselves since they spend Thanksgiving with family members, so they chose to “give away” their meal to others. Son Brian, 15, was able to help shop on Sunday, but son Stephen, 18, a freshman at the University of Maryland in College Park, could not be there.

“Thanksgiving has always been a time for family to come together,” said Steve. “Everyone should be able to give thanks, and not worry about having to put food on the table.”

Jean said participating as a family has made her sons aware as to how much they have, and reminds them to “help others and love thy neighbor.”

The items they purchased were carefully chosen, scratched off the list they had prepared in advance. In addition to typical Thanksgiving foods such as stuffing, turkey and pumpkin pie, they included extra items such as sparkling cider, candy, nuts, crackers, chips and dip. And rice.

“Everyone can use a big bag of rice,” said Steve.

They typically find a creative way to package the meal, choosing something more useful then decorative. This year, they decided on reusable grocery bags.

The Rinaldis always include a greeting card, along with a grocery gift card, for the family to purchase other items they may need.

“We never sign the card, because we are not looking for a response,” said Jean. “This is about giving.”

Brian said they have made the baskets as long as he can remember.

“We just do it because we know there are people out there who need our help,” he said.

To make a Christmas donation or for more information on the program, contact St. Peter’s Social Concerns office at 301-774-0162.

thogan@gazette.net