Friday Focus: Toys for Tots

Each year, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program works to brighten the Toys for Totslives of less fortunate children throughout the United States with its annual toy drive. From October to December, the organization works with local communities to accept donations of new toys to be distributed at Christmas time. Their mission is simple: to deliver a message of hope to one of the nation’s most valuable resources—its children. This week, we spoke with Staff Sergeant Brett Wagner, a coordinator from King George County, VA,  who shared some information about the organization and one particularly special instance of how Toys for Tots was able to touch a family in need.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)    

A: The mission of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?  

A: I was very touched when we were able to support a family that just lost their house due to a fire two days before Christmas, but there are a few stories that are similar that happen almost every year.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?  

A: Getting toys early in the campaign season.  A lot of people tend to wait until closer to Christmas to begin their shopping, but we need to get the toys to the families as soon as we can.

Q: How can people get involved this holiday season?  

A: There are many ways to support the program.  Volunteering in the warehouse and donations are the primary things that come to mind.

This year, Community Bank of the Chesapeake proudly supported Toys for Tots programs throughout the communities we serve through our annual Toy Drive. Thanks to the generous donations of customers and employees, we were able to donate over 270 new toys… just in time for Christmas!

Holiday Travel Survival Tips

There’s an old expression that says “getting there is half the fun”, but if you’ve ever Happy family driving in  the car surrounded by snow.taken road trip, you know that all that time spent traveling in close quarters for long periods of time isn’t exactly restful. Throw in extra holiday traffic and the excited frenzy of the holiday season and traveling by car can be especially stressful.

Ways to Make Your Journey a Little Less Bumpy This Holiday Season

Before you head out on the road with your family to visit loved ones or take a much-needed vacation this holiday season, be sure to read these important survival tips:

  1. Take a reliable vehicle. Your old minivan might be comfortable, but it also could break down, leaving you in the worst situation possible: stranded with cranky children. Even if you have a newer car, it’s important to have routine maintenance done before you leave.
  2. Join a travel club. In the unfortunate event your car breaks down, you’ll be able to get roadside assistance. Companies like AAA can also bring you other benefits like discounts on shopping, dining and hotels, in addition to helping you out if you’re stranded.
  3. Map your route in advance. Today there is no shortage of online tools to help you map out a route. Give your route to a family member so that they know how to locate you.
  4. Plan your travel times. If you have younger children, plan your travel around their sleep schedules. Traveling at night is a great way to avoid heavy rush hour traffic.
  5. Pack healthy snacks and refreshments. Bring along a cooler with water, fruit and other refreshments, and pack other healthy snacks. Avoid unhealthy sugary foods.
  6. Stay connected. Charge your cellphone before leaving, and don’t forget bring along your car charger. Also, be sure to charge those electronic games and music players in advance!
  7. Play family games. In the event that those electronic games or players run out of battery life, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned game of “license plate” to engage children.
  8. Dress comfortably. Dress kids in loose, comfortable clothing or even their pajamas for nighttime travel.
  9. Play good music. Bring along relaxing music for the ride. Be sure to select songs you and your children will enjoy.

And lastly…

  1. Remember to keep your sense of humor and a positive attitude!

Friday Focus: Southern Maryland Food Bank

For many of us, the holidays are a time of plenty as our tables are filled withsomdfood bank festive dishes, cookies and other treats.  But it’s important to remember that there are people in our community who are not as fortunate. Leading the charge against hunger in the Tri-County area is Brenda DiCarlo, Director of the Southern Maryland Food Bank. We caught up with Brenda for this week’s Friday Focus, where she shared her organization’s story.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: The Southern Maryland Food Bank has been serving the Tri-County area of Southern Maryland for 30 years and has been easing the pain of hunger since we began in 1983.  We provide supportive services and bulk food to nearly 40 pantries, group homes, soup kitchens and shelters in our area.  These sites rely on us for 50 to 100 percent of their weekly food supply, so that they can provide food to those experiencing food insecurity in their communities.  We also provide SNACK Sak bags to children in five St. Mary County Public Schools who are living in crisis situations.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: Our favorite bittersweet moment was recently when we distributed over 1 million pounds of food to the community during our 30th fiscal year.  It was a milestone for such a small program, however, knowing that there was that much need in our community enlightened us as to how much more we still need to do to ease the pain of hunger.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Our challenges are many. We are in constant need of food donations, financial donations to purchase food with or expand our services and staffing.

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?

A: Always remember that we ourselves could easily be in the same situation as those we serve, so be kind and non-judgmental to those requesting services.

Q: How can people get involved this holiday season?

A: Food drives are a great way to get involved and to support those in need. You can also contact us or any pantry that may need extra help during the busy season of giving and receiving.

 

Online Holiday Shopping Tips

If the weather outside is frightful (or if you’re just looking to save some time), online shopping is the way to go for your holiday purchases. The advOnline shopping safetyantages to the online marketplace are many: no lines, no crowds and no multi-store trips to find that one specific toy. As you zoom from Amazon to Etsy and back again, here are some tips to make your holiday shopping as productive and safe as possible:

  • Protect your data

The holiday shopping season always comes with a host of horror stories about identity theft, so when you log on, make sure you take the proper steps to keep your information safe. Shop only through sites you trust and always check that the site is secure. Secure sites typically have URLs that being with “https” instead of “http” on any page where you’re entering card information. Additionally, you should always see a lock icon somewhere in your browser window when you’re on a secure page.

  • Choose credit

When it comes to checkout time, it’s better to use a credit card rather than a debit card for online purchases. Credit cards tend to have a higher level of fraud protection than debit cards, and you are not liable for debt incurred after a credit card is reported lost or stolen. On the other hand, if your debit card information is compromised, your entire bank account balance could be at risk.

  • Keep track of those receipts

Have a designated place (either a physical folder or folder in your email inbox) to keep track of your receipts, payment confirmations and tracking numbers for your purchases. Always be sure to read the fine print with respect to returns; different vendors’ policies will differ where returns and exchanges are concerned.

  • Buy items together to save on shipping

The one obvious downside to online shopping is the cost of shipping. Depending on the site and the shipping option you choose, a reasonably priced item could easily become one that causes you to hesitate at the checkout page. Sites like Amazon offer you the option to bundle items together and ship them in the fewest boxes possible to save you money, and may also offer free shipping when you spend a certain dollar amount. Plan out your shopping in advance to maximize your transactions on each site—it will help you take advantage of these benefits and keep your shipping costs low.

  • Check the dates

Speaking of shipping, pay close attention to the estimated shipping times on your purchases and make sure to leave enough time for things to arrive. Most sites will provide you with a tracking number for your package once it’s shipped.

Remember: Identity theft increases around the holidays, so take extra care when shopping online. Here are some additional safe shopping tips from Webroot.com.

Friday Focus: The Charles County Holiday Trail

The holiday season is in the air in Charles County as several hiholiday trailstoric and contemporary sites come together once again to form the 2014 Holiday Trail! Working behind the scenes to coordinate the effort is Kate Zabriskie, who came up with the idea in 2012 as a creative way to promote tourism in Charles County. Her vision was quickly embraced by local organizations and has been gaining popularity ever since. As part of this week’s Friday Focus, Kate spoke with us about the trail and provided details about how and when to go this year.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, etc.).

A: The Charles County Holiday Trail is composed of historic and cultural sites in Charles County. The purpose of the trail is to share these landmarks with locals and visitors alike.

The participating landmarks include:

We are also excited to welcome several new sites to the trail this year, including:

Q: What has been your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: The Historical Society of Charles County has stepped in as the umbrella organization for the event.  The County’s tourism office has also gotten behind the effort and sponsored the brochure design and printing.  It is exciting to see a little idea quickly grow into something that can be sustained for years to come.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: The biggest challenge is getting the word out.  People from the County will tell you they haven’t been to some of these sites in years—or ever, for that matter.  For those new the County, many don’t even know these places exist.

Q: How can people really help?

A: The public is invited to visit the sites the weekend of December 5-7. They can also visit our website, where they can connect with us via social media. Additionally, businesses, organizations or individuals can include this informational text in newsletters, Facebook posts, etc.

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?

A: Realize that nothing is below you.  At some point, you will probably end up cleaning dirty bathrooms before an event.  On that same note, however, there will usually be more to do than you can ever get done.  Choose what you will work on wisely.  Always be in recruit mode and never forget to say thank you!

Want to experience the Holiday Trail for yourself? Here’s what you need to know:  

The trail begins on Friday, December 5 with the Kris Kringle Christmas Market at the Charles County Fair. Admission is $1 or one nonperishable food item. All admission will go to the Southern Maryland Food Bank. Modelled after the markets in Germany, visitors can expect plenty of food, lights, greens, art, music, shopping and a living nativity.

Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Identity—Seven Tips for Safe Holiday Shopping

While you may be dreaming of a white Christmas, an iIdentityTheftdentity thief may be dreaming of stealing your identity. With higher traffic both in stores and online on retail websites around the holidays, identity theft is known to increase during this time of year. As you prepare to start your holiday shopping, here are a few tips to keep your identity safe:

-When you shop, carry only the cards you plan to use. Keeping some of your cards separate could help minimize the damage if your wallet is stolen.

-Know where your cards are at all times. Shopping in stores around the holidays can be stressful, and it can be easy to lose track of your card when you’re rushing. Make sure your card makes it safely back into your wallet after each transaction, and keep your wallet close.

-Check for evidence of tampering before you use an ATM to obtain cash. Glue and overlays on the card reader are common indicators of tampering. Trust your instincts; if you suspect a machine has been tampered with, consider withdrawing cash somewhere else. Also, remember to protect your PIN from anyone who may try to read it over your shoulder when you’re using an ATM machine or POS terminal.

-Monitor your account activity through online banking and check your monthly statements closely. Your shopping patterns are likely to change around the holidays, which means it’s important to check your statements even more closely than usual to ensure that there are no fraudulent charges. Hold on to your receipts to help you verify your transactions, and contact your financial institution or card provider immediately if you see a charge that you did not make.

-Make sure you’re securely shopping online. If you’re shopping online, make sure your computer has the most up-to-date antivirus software, and that you’re only giving out credit card information on authenticated sites. You can tell whether a site is secure by looking for the prefix “https” before the web address, or a green bar around your search bar when you go to checkout.

-Keep yourself up to date on any large-scale data breaches that occur. Large retail data breaches are becoming more and more commonplace, and it’s impossible to know when the next one will be, or which store will be affected. If a data breach occurs at a store you frequent, be proactive: call or check the store’s website for specific information, and if the situation warrants it, cancel your card and request a new one from your financial institution. Some retailers may offer free credit monitoring services for a limited time after a large-scale breach, but it’s also a good idea to consider making those kinds of services a permanent part of your defense against identity theft.

-Hold off on that social media post. While cyber-crime is a growing threat, you should also protect yourself from the threat of burglary. Refrain from sharing your holiday travel plans with your entire social network; letting the world know you’ll be on vacation for a week could give a prospective burglar a golden opportunity to break into your home.

For more tips on staying safe during your holiday shopping, check out this article from the Washington Post.

 

Friday Feature: La Plata Business Association – Small Business Saturday

LBA logoYou’ve heard of Black Friday, but did you know that the Saturday after Thanksgiving is Small Business Saturday? Local businesses are the backbone of so many communities, and each year, shoppers are encouraged to support then as they do their holiday shopping. This year, the La Plata Business Association has been working hard to plan the first-ever “Shop La Plata” celebration, taking place this Saturday. We spoke to Keith Grasso, the Association’s President, who shared some details on the event and why you should be shopping local this holiday season!

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: LPBA provides opportunities for businesses, organizations, and individuals interested in the development, redevelopment and preservation of the downtown business district of La Plata to work together to promote the interest of the La Plata Business community through the sponsoring, marketing and programming of special events and to provide opportunities for advertising and joint marketing development.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: Small Business Saturday® helps small business kick off the busy holiday shopping season. The role of a neighborhood champion is to inspire communities to participate in the day and support local Small Business Saturday celebrations.

This year, LPBA has partnered with Business Alliance of Charles County, Charles County Chamber of Commerce, Charles County Government Economic Development and Tourism, Town of La Plata, and University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center among other neighborhood champions for the “Shop La Plata” celebration on Small Business Saturday.

To date, more than a dozen neighborhood champions have joined together to recognize the day and to commit to serve as ambassadors, encouraging family and friends to shop small at independently-owned shops and restaurants in our neighborhood.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Public awareness is important. LPBA appreciates this opportunity to be featured on Community Bank’s blog to promote public awareness about the “Shop La Plata” celebration on Small Business Saturday.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: LPBA will host an inaugural “Shop La Plata” celebration on Small Business Saturday® to be held on Nov. 29, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the downtown business district of La Plata, Maryland.

Small Business Saturday® is held the first Saturday after Thanksgiving and was original created by American Express in 2010 to help small business kick of the busy holiday shopping season. By supporting independently-owned shops and restaurants on Small Business Saturday® and throughout the holiday season, you are helping to grow the local economy and build a better neighborhood.

“Shop La Plata” for one of the best small town holiday shopping experiences Southern Maryland has to offer.

Streets and storefront windows will be decorated with whimsical holiday décor. La Plata’s tops chefs at Casey Jones Restaurant & Bar and Charles Street Bakery will fill the air with wonderful aromas of sweet treats and tasty desserts! Shop La Plata for homemade pizza at Pizza Hotline.

Shop La Plata for fine jewelry, fashion eyewear, baby boutique and one of kind gifts, ornaments and chic home decor at Centerpiece Boutique and Home Design, House Boutique, and Joson Fine Jewelry & Home Boutique. Shop La Plata for holistic health and wellness, beauty, spa and yoga holiday specials at Alchemy the Salon, La Bella Viso, Live Out Loud Yoga Studio, New Moon Bodywork & Botanicals, Rejuvenation Medi-Spa, Tangles Hair Salon, The Loft Salon, and World Gym. Shop La Plata for new and hard to find vintage musical instruments at Island Music Company, high quality custom framing for your holiday family portraits and handmade furniture at Bernie’s Frame Shop. Shop La Plata for quality resale clothing at Hooks and Hangers and iPhone, iPad and iPod repairs at Wireless Junkies.

Participating merchants will be collecting canned goods and nonperishable food items on Small Business Saturday to support Southern Maryland Food Bank.

Ask participating merchants how to win prizes, no purchase necessary.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: Look for a full page ad in the Maryland Independent “holiday shopping guide” on Wed., Nov. 26 and Dec. 10. The guide will be available from Wed. Nov. 26 through Mon. Dec. 22 at Southern Maryland Newspapers Online web site www.somdnews.com

Stay updated and informed about the event by following the La Plata Business Association Facebook page. For inquiries, please contact Christine Parker, co-chair of the Shop La Plata celebration at 301-751-7553.

Friday Focus: Anathoth House

As the cold winter months approach, organizations like Anathoth House, Inc. banathoth houseecome especially important to the community. This all-volunteer initiative reaches out to individuals in need to provide sustenance, support and spiritual guidance. We spoke with Tracey Alston, a representative of Anathoth House, who shared a little more about the organization’s mission.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: Anathoth House, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We provide meals, clothing, survival kits and emergency food packages to the homeless, needy and other persons in crisis. We combine our efforts with local agencies and churches in the hope of promoting the self-sufficiency of those we serve.

Along with physical restoration, we purpose to bring about spiritual renewal to those we come in contact with through prayer and ministering the written Gospel. Assisting others through physical means is beneficial, but we know that to be only a short-term solution. The true bread of life is the continuous application of the Word of God; as it is long lasting and a key ingredient needed to transform lives from brokenness to victorious living. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Our organization has no paid staff and all donations go towards those in need.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A:  I have two. The first is when we were delivering food to a senior who lives on very little income. She was very grateful for the holiday basket of food that was given to her. After giving her the food, our volunteers spent time talking and praying with her. The senior then asked if she could go with them to church, as she recognized she needed spiritual food more than natural food. She said that was needed most. So our volunteers picked her up and brought her to church the following Sunday.

My second favorite moment was when I learned one of the women who was living out in tents in the woods, had landed work. To date, she is still working and living in a studio apartment. She is facing health challenges, but she is out of the woods.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: The biggest challenge is attaining the opportunity where we can sit down and gather with those we serve. Our goal is to establish an ongoing relationship with them to prove ourselves trustworthy. As we go about accomplishing that, we slowly teach them basic fundamental skills that so many of us take for granted. Many we serve are victims of circumstances and/or have not been taught basic life skills.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: We have our holiday food giveaways and in 2015, we hope to resume our workshops, where we invite the women we serve. We have an awesome time of fellowship where we minister the Word of God and have brunch.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization? 

A:  They can reach us through our website, AnathothHouse.org, or call us at 301.751.4870. We have many people who want to volunteer. We like to first meet those interested in helping first; there is also an application and, depending on the project, we do background checks.

Friday Focus: Windows of Strength

Undergoing an organ transplant can be a lengthy ordeal for both the recipient and his or her family. This week’s Friday Focus organization, Windows of Strength, Limited, seeks to relieve some of the financial stress for transplant recipients and their caregivers. We caught up with founder, Sandy Walker-Samler, who shared more information about the positive impact her organization has had on the lives of those in need.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.) 

A: Windows of Strength is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization assisting organ transplant recipients and their caregivers with non-medical costs that are not covered by insurance, government programs or other organizations during their transplant process. These costs include transportation to and from follow-up doctor visits and testing, lodging for caregivers and family members during the recipient’s hospital stay, meals and other needs that may arise that do not fall under medical classification.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)? 

A: We have helped organ transplant recipients and their caregivers in many ways. Each time we provide assistance is considered a special moment. There is such a need for this type of support; we wish we could help more. We have aided in areas such as:

  • Providing gas cards for transportation needs to allow recipients to travel back and forth to their follow-up doctor appointments and tests.
  • Providing assistance with lodging and bus transportation for recipients who live out of their transplant clinic area when they must follow-up with doctor appointments and tests after their transplant surgery.
  • Helping to pay for parking fees for the recipients while at their doctor appointments and follow-up tests.
  • Helping with phone and utility bills, homeowner’s and car insurance for recipients in need of assistance due to their caregiver and/or themselves being unable to work after their transplant surgery.
  • Paying rent for the recipients in need of assistance due to the caregiver and/or recipient being on an unpaid leave of absence.
  • Donating to the Gift of Life Family House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Gift of Life Family House serves as a “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families by providing temporary, affordable lodging and supportive services to those who travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for transplant-related care.

These are the main areas where we have helped; however, there have been other miscellaneous requests that we have granted funding to help with financial assistance

Q: What is your biggest challenge? 

A:   Awareness, Funding, and Volunteers.

Windows of Strength was formed in 2010 and received 501(c)(3) status in 2011. Being a newly formed organization, we are faced with the challenge of growing awareness about the organization and our mission.   We started from the ground up and do not have any statewide chapters or a national umbrella that we fall under to assist with awareness or funding. We are not a “known” name throughout the community. Most of our funding comes from two major events we hold each year: a Mother/Daughter Tea and Fashion Show held the Sunday before Mother’s Day and a Holiday Gift Show held the Sunday before Thanksgiving. We have also held smaller fundraising events throughout the year which has helped in these areas.

In addition, most of the transplant clinics are located in the Baltimore and D.C. areas where there is a larger transplant community to draw from. Here in Southern Maryland, we don’t have transplant centers. Though there are many organ transplant recipients in the area, due to confidentiality and the sensitive nature of a transplant, we do not have the access as the larger organizations do to reach out to this community. With that being said, it has also been a big challenge to find volunteers in the Southern Maryland area to assist with the organization. We know the people are out there, but just need help in finding ways to connect to them.

We continue to make baby steps, however we are excited to report that this year we made huge progress in establishing great partnerships with transplant social workers from the Johns Hopkins Transplant Center and the University of Maryland Transplant Center. In order to verify a recipient’s need for assistance, a grant application must be submitted and signed off by their transplant social worker before submitting to Windows of Strength for funding. We have been able to provide assistance to many of the recipients from these centers, some of which are from the Southern Maryland area. 

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: Yes. Our Annual Holiday Gift Show – Sunday, November 23, 2014 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the North Beach Volunteer Fire Department, North Beach, Md.

We also sell very delicious tea and tasty creamed honey over the holidays. They can be purchased individually or in gift sets and baskets.

Other ongoing fund raising events:

  1. When you shop online at AmazonSmile and choose Windows of Strength as your charity organization, Amazon will donate a percentage to Windows of Strength.
  2. If you like jewelry, check out www.bravelets.com and search for Windows of Strength as your charity.   Bravelets™ will donate $10 from each jewelry purchase to Windows of Strength.
  3. We have partnered with Phoneraiser.com in collecting used/old cell phones and ink jet cartridges. The donation of these items help Windows of Strength raise money for organ transplant recipients and their caregivers, while at the same time protecting the environment by giving old technology new life and keeping it from polluting our landfills. The unwanted cell phones and ink cartridges are recycled in accordance with EPA regulations or refurbished and reused.     

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?  

A: Contact Windows of Strength by phone at 443-951-5125; email at mywish@windowsofstrength.org; or find more information online at www.windowsofstrength.org. Windows of Strength can also be found on Facebook and Pinterest. Our mailing address is P.O. Box 584, Chesapeake Beach, MD 20732.

Holiday Food and Toy Drive November 12-December 12

You can help us make a difference and brighten up the holiday season for those in need.Holiday Food & Toy Drive

We’re proud to announce the start of our Fourth Annual Food and Toy Drive. Each year it brings us great pleasure to bring back this special seasonal event to help support the organizations and individuals in our communities.

Helping others during the holidays

You can drop off non-perishable food goods, such as canned vegetables and fruit, soups, baby formula, powdered milk, peanut butter and hot/cold cereals, at any Community Bank branch between November 12 and December 12.

Collections made in Southern Maryland will be donated to the Southern Maryland Food Bank, collections in King George County will be donated to the Department of Social Services for the King George Food Pantry and collections in Fredericksburg will be donated to the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank.

We are also collecting new, unwrapped toys to distribute to local families with young children during the holidays. Toys collected will support the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program.