- Categorized in: Features – Past Issues
Often, people hope to find the holiday spirit in stories of miracles: tales that would convince even the biggest Scrooges that there is a power greater than what we can see. In the end, however, one realizes that seemingly small acts of dedication, caring, and generosity are often overlooked. These are the miracles that define people.
For the past 11 years the Carroll County Arts Council has organized its Festival of Wreaths, a holiday fund raising event centering on the auction of uniquely decorated wreaths donated by community groups, businesses, and individuals.
The event typically lures more than 200 wreaths expressing themes ranging from whimsical to elegant. Creativity and generosity abound and at the celebration’s end, winning bidders take their wreaths home.
On rare occasions, one or two wreaths remain homeless.
Sandy Oxx, the council’s executive director, remembered cleaning up after the 2006 festival and being left with one rather simple wreath.
“One of our board members happened to see it and I explained that it didn’t sell,” said Oxx. “He quickly said, ‘I’ll buy it – and does $2,000 seem like a fair price?’ Since the wreath was rather….uh….Charlie Brownish, $2,000 seemed not just fair, but a miracle.”
“It was the highest price ever paid for a single wreath,” said Oxx. “To make the gesture even more miraculous, the bid came from a Jewish gentleman who didn’t even celebrate Christmas. He asked that we give the wreath to someone who would enjoy it. We did.”
Before 2007, Emily Jew was healthy; in fact she took pride in her good health. So when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at the age of 34, she was devastated.
Emily’s shock was compounded by other crises in her life. She and her husband, Edward, had just sold their business and moved to Eldersburg. They did not know anyone, and while launching into new jobs, they were also easing their 8-year-old daughter, Jaclyn, into life in a new place.
“It was a very chaotic time and I was very distraught,” said Emily. “It was a lot to deal with all at once and we had to make a lot of adjustments quickly.”
As a patient in Carroll Hospital Center, Emily became acquainted with Eileen Overfelt, manager of the Women’s Place.
“Eileen was very pleasant,” said Emily. “She helped me put things in perspective, guided me through the process of choosing doctors and connected me to helpful resources.”
As the fall wore on, the family was overwhelmed by Emily’s treatments and the ensuing financial burdens. Her husband was working overtime. They did not celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and were not planning to celebrate Christmas.
“I had to go back to work to keep my health insurance,” said Emily. “My treatments were continuing and I was preoccupied with work and trying to fight my cancer in a positive way.”
Then Eileen Overfelt connected Emily to WISH, Women’s Initiative Supporting Health, a recently formed group of women hoping to give back to the community and support its health needs, particular those of women.
The chairwoman of WISH, Janet Shearer, quickly rallied the group to help Emily Jew and her family celebrate Christmas.
“Emily and her family didn’t have Thanksgiving and weren’t planning on celebrating Christmas – that was almost unimaginable to us,” said Shearer. “We wanted to reach out and be supportive in this trying time, so with Emily’s consent, the women of WISH made sure the Jew family could celebrate Christmas.”
Members of WISH made multiple trips to the Jews’ home in Eldersburg. They decorated the house inside and out, made a holiday meal, and provided gifts for the Jews and their daughter. Emily was able to be host to her extended family for a Christmas dinner with the food WISH provided. WISH members even returned after the holiday to help clean up.
After the decorating was complete, Emily and her daughter cuddled together by the Christmas tree and talked.
“I had a chance to remember what it is like to be a mom and forget my illness for a while,” said Emily. “I was able to tell my daughter I love her in a special way.”
That and the compassion of total strangers was Emily Jew’s holiday miracle.
This past summer, The Boys and Girls Club of Westminster held its inaugural summer day camp for school age children.
“A week before camp started we had 30 kids signed up and shortly after camp started we ended up with over 60 kids, ranging in age from 4 to 15,” said Beth Tevis, who jumped into the role of camp director at the last minute. “So many kids registered that we had to be prepared to handle all of them.”
A former teacher, Tevis knew the key to a successful camp was organization and preparation. She also rapidly discovered needs that the staff had not anticipated.
“We quickly realized that many of the kids did not eat breakfast before they came to camp and many came without the bag lunch they were supposed to bring each day,” said Tevis.
“I was staying up late at night shopping and packing snacks and making sure everything was ready for the next day of camp,” said Tevis. “I knew I couldn’t keep doing that, so I sent out a call for help.”
Becky Jarboe, a kindergarten teacher at Cranberry Station Elementary School, was one of many people who responded to Tevis’ plea for help. Jarboe volunteered to coordinate, package, and deliver donations for the remaining weeks of the camp.
“Through phone calls and e-mail chains we got the word out,” said Jarboe, “and we had a great response from so many people.
“We bagged healthy snacks individually so they would be easy to pass out to campers. We made at least 20 lunches for every day of camp and as many as 60 lunches for their Friday field trips. When Beth called and said they were running out of cleaning supplies or paper towels or soap, we got people to donate that.”
“All those people stocked our storage closet and we were able to pull out whatever snacks and supplies we needed for the rest of the summer,” said Tevis. “It was a huge relief.”
The Shepherd’s Staff, a faith-based outreach and support center based in Westminster, is no stranger to small miracles.
“I’ve seen a thousand miracles in 20 years,” said Director Kathy Brown. “I never know where the next kindness will come from. Young children donating the proceeds of their lemonade stands, boy scouts building picnic tables for us, adults putting in a bathroom for our clients; all of these little vignettes of kindness roll into one big miracle.”
Although Brown appreciates every donation – from a few bars of soap to the church that organizes a 4th of July picnic every year for clients of The Shepherd’s Staff – when she thinks of miracles, one particular donor comes to mind.
For the past five years, about four times a year, the Carroll County resident (who prefers to remain anonymous) brings his truck loaded with donations for The Shepherd’s Staff programs.
Not long ago he delivered a load of clothing for the organization’s “Call for Coats” program, said Velma Green, who handles donations.
“He dropped off about 10 boxes of brand new coats, sweaters, and jackets of all sizes,” said Green. “He brings boxes and boxes of backpacks and shoes for our Back to School program. Last year he brought about 70 pairs of brand new shoes of all sizes.”
How does he do it? He makes a hobby of shopping the clearance racks wherever he goes, buying up end-of-season deals at rock bottom prices, items he knows The Shepherd’s Staff will need in the coming seasons.
He stores them in his basement and takes the brand new items to The Shepherd’s Staff when the appropriate program rolls around again.
Although this modest man sees his actions as a way to give back to his community, Kathy Brown and her staff refer to him in a different way:
“We call him,” she said, “our ‘miracle man.’”
A few evenings before Christmas in 2000, Sergeant Eric Fogle of the Maryland State Police was called in to work on a missing person case. Sergeant Fogle and his bloodhound, Angel, joined two other canine teams to look for an Alzheimer’s sufferer who had wandered away from his residence in the Hampstead area.
Many searchers were scouring the area. The weather was cold, the temperature was dropping into the 20s, and there was a threat of snow. In those conditions, time was of the essence. The elderly man had been missing for more than seven hours.
The sergeant had great confidence in his dog. She was the runt of her litter when Fogle chose her, but he recognized her potential.
“I named her ‘Angel,’” said Fogle, “because I thought that was a good name for a pup who would grow up to be a rescue dog; like a guardian angel.”
He spent hours training Angel for search and rescue work. By 2000, the dog was seven years old and she and Fogle were a team that had completed numerous successful searches.
On the night that the old man went missing, Fogle and Angel joined the search just after 8 p.m. The sergeant used a pillowcase and a pair of socks to give Angel the scent. The threat of snow had turned into a whirling storm with inches of snow piling up fast. The situation had become urgent.
Angel quickly picked up the trail along a railroad track. Within 10 minutes, she pulled Fogle away from the railroad tracks and down an embankment to an area of thick brush. There was the missing man, lying under the brush and already covered by several inches of snow.
Sergeant Fogle alerted the other searchers and they all covered the man with their coats until more help arrived. The man was transported to a nearby hospital and survived, although his core body temperature had dropped significantly. He would not have lasted much longer.
“Angel was phenomenal,” said Lieutenant Terry Katz, commander of the Westminster Barrack at the time. “That was one of the most miraculous rescues I can remember. Rescued by an Angel.”