by Amanda Milewski
If you think the Grinch was on the right path when his heart grew three sizes that day, see our roundup of Grinch-approved ways to give back this holiday season.
The extra time at home during the COVID closures had many of us purging unwanted stuff and taking stock of what we have versus what we really need. For many, this point in time gave rise to a new understanding of what’s really important to them and their families.
If you and your family—nuclear and extended—have decided that you just don’t need more stuff and want to give in a more meaningful way this holiday season, read on for some ideas that give back to the Carroll County community at large. Many of the options are not relegated to the holiday season but are year-round needs so can be applicable for other holidays and birthdays and anniversaries too. Happy “shopping!”
The Gift of Remembrance and Honor
What started in 1992 with a wreath company donating surplus wreaths at the end of the holiday season to lay on the graves of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery has grown into a national day of honoring our country’s fallen service members, with wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 2,500 locations in all 50 states, as well at sea and abroad.
This year’s National Wreaths Across America Day is Dec. 18 and ceremonies will be held at close to 30 local cemeteries.
The New Windsor-based Babylon Vault Co. became involved with Wreaths Across America in 2018 with a goal of placing a wreath on every veteran’s grave in Carroll County. Babylon Vault was started by farmer Guy William Babylon in 1930, and today the company occupies land on the family’s original New Windsor farm.
“My father, Graham Babylon, was a Navy veteran. In honor of him, my company took Wreaths Across America on as a community outreach program,” said Donna Babylon, third-generation owner of Babylon Vault. “We’ve been here in the community for over 90 years, and have a long tradition of honoring veterans at their funeral services with a special set-up, so this was a natural fit. We’re creating our own ‘little Arlington’ here in Carroll County.”
According to the company’s website, in 2018 Wreaths Across America started at seven local cemeteries honoring 751 Carroll County veterans. Last year, Babylon Vault says its local events grew to 23 cemeteries honoring more than 2,100 veterans. This year they are hoping to expand to 30 cemeteries, honoring 3,000 veterans.
The wreath laying relies heavily on volunteers. Following a brief ceremony, wreaths are placed at each veteran’s grave as each his or her name is spoken. The community is welcome to participate. In addition to sponsoring a wreath, volunteers are needed to deliver wreaths, place wreaths on the day of the event, sing the national anthem, play taps, coordinate a ceremony, and clean up wreaths after the first of the year.
Learn more at www.babylonvaultcompany.com/wreaths-across-america
Thank a teacher
Tired of buying the same old mug for your child’s teacher? Think a gift card is too impersonal? Give them the Gift of Books for their classroom from Westminster’s Rudolph Girls Bookstore. Teachers, counselors and media specialists can complete an online wish list. A bag with wish list books will be filled and marked with the teacher’s name, school, level and content area. When a community member buys a bag, the teacher will be contacted. Arrangements can even be made for your bag of books to be delivered to the teacher. For more information, visit rudolphgirls.com.
For the Foodie
Does your favorite foodie really need another kitchen gadget or cookbook? Instead of contributing to the clutter in their kitchen, help your fellow Carroll Countians who are experiencing food insecurity by donating in their name to or volunteering with them at Carroll County Food Sunday (CCFS). CCFS is a nonprofit organization that feeds more than 400 families per week from distribution locations in Westminster, Eldersburg and Taneytown. CCFS accept monetary donations which can be specified in honor or memory of a loved one; according to their website, more than 90 percent of each dollar donated goes directly to providing groceries to their clients. They also accept non-perishable food donations (see their website for a wish list). Volunteers are always needed and do things like greet and interview clients and sort, organize and package food. For more information, or to donate or volunteer, visit www.ccfoodsunday.org.
For the Animal Lover
Not everyone is in the position to foster or adopt a pet but if you know someone who is an animal lover, contributing to the well-being of the animals housed at the Carroll County Humane Society offers a more doable option. The Humane Society is always looking for volunteers, some of whom are hands-on and involved with care of the animals and others who assist with adoption events. They also accept monetary donations which you can give in memory or honor of someone and you can earmark your donation for one of the Humane Society’s fundraisers or programs. They also maintain a list of needed items on their website that can be donated—ranging from dog and cat food to cleaning supplies—as well as an Amazon wish list through which donors can purchase needed items and have them sent directly to their site. They also offer a handful of household and clothing items with the Carroll County Humane Society logo that can be ordered through their website. For more information on volunteering or donating, visit www.hscarroll.org.
For the Do-Gooder
Have a friend or family member who is always there to help no matter what the circumstances? Remember him or her this holiday season with a donation to The Shepherd’s Staff, a nondenominational outreach and support center that offers help to those in crisis situations in Carroll County. The Shepherd’s Staff provides emergency financial assistance; resources and intervention; emergency food supplies; a Friday soup kitchen; a community Thanksgiving dinner; a coat drive; a backpack/school supplies drive; and they maintain a “blessings closet” that provides laundry and cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products; and diapers and baby products to those in need. In addition, they sponsor three holiday programs — Christmas stockings and Easter baskets for children and Christmas gift bags for seniors. For additional information on how to donate, visit www.shepstaff.org. (For more details about their Christmas stocking program, see For the Kid at Heart on pg. 70.)
For the Arts Lover
Support the thriving art community right here in Carroll County and enjoy some great benefits when you become a member or you gift someone a membership to the Carroll County Arts Council (CCAC). There are a number of different membership levels and all include a 10 percent discount on most CCAC programs including theater productions, concerts and films; DepARTures bus trips; classes and workshops; summer arts camp; a subscription to the “Marquee” newsletter; and invitations to special members-only events. Your membership supports CCAC’s mission “to enrich our community, both culturally and economically, by presenting, promoting and supporting a wide variety of arts opportunities for our residents, visitors, and artists.” CCAC produces the annual Gallery of Gifts (Nov. 19-Dec. 21) a cash-and-carry exhibit/boutique; the Festival of Wreaths (Nov. 26-Dec. 5), an online auction of more than 150 theme wreaths; the annual PEEPshow (April 8-18, 2022), featuring artistic creations using those famous marshmallow confections; and Art in the Park, an outdoor festival usually held the first Saturday in June. For more information on their many programs and productions as well as information about memberships, visit www.carrollcountyartscouncil.org.
For the Outdoor Enthusiast
For the hiker, biker, fisherman, canoer or kayaker, a membership to Piney Run or Bear Branch nature centers or a season pass to Piney Run Park will give them access to all things outdoors as well as help to maintain and operate the county’s nature centers and many parks. Benefits of membership to the nature centers include a 10 percent discount on all purchases in the gift shop, invitations to members-only programs and activities and a registration discount on nature camps. A season pass to Piney Run Park permits free access for one vehicle. Boat passes also are available. For membership information, visit nature center memberships. For information about a Piney Run Park season pass, visit www.carrollcountymd.gov/government/directory/recreation-parks/places-to-go/piney-run-park/. For general information about Carroll County’s Recreation and Parks, which is celebrating 50 years, visit www.carrollcountymd.gov/government/directory/recreation-parks/.
For the Book Lover
It’s easy for a book lover’s shelves to sag with the weight of tomes both well-loved and yet to be read. Instead, further your avid reader’s fondness for the written word by signing them up to be a Friend of the Carroll County Public Library or make a one-time or recurring donation in their name. Benefits of being a Friend include an invitation to the library’s annual meeting which features a speaker and refreshments and advance notice of special events such as the signature Day for Book Lovers and the Evening with Nicholas Sparks. For more information on becoming a Friend or other donation options, visit https://library.carr.org/about/support.asp.
For the History Buff
Founded in 1837, Carroll County offers much for the history buff, especially at Union Mills Homestead, located in Westminster. Union Mills dates to 1797, even earlier than the county’s founding. The homestead began with the establishment of two mills—grist and saw—and a community grew up around it. Today, visitors can take a step back in time and view the buildings and surrounding areas as they began and evolved over the last 160 years. Union Mills accepts donations that support its maintenance and operation and also offers annual memberships at a variety of levels. Members receive free tours when the homestead is open to the public and for events and a subscription to the “Homestead” newsletter. A book, a product of the Union Mills Homestead Foundation, titled “Pastimes: Life & Love on the Homefront During the Civil War, 1861-1865,” is available for purchase both online and in the gift shop onsite. The website and gift shop also sells Union Mills-labeled clothing and housewares, the proceeds of which further support the operation of the site. Visit www.unionmills.org for more information.
For the Christmas Lover
Do you know someone who goes over the top with their Christmas décor every year? Someone who has taken Christmas decorating from “something that has to get done” to an art form? If so, one of Hirt Tree Farm’s twisted trees maybe just what they need to up their level of decorating this year. For the past seven years, owner/operator Clyde Hirt, hand-twists some of the branches on a specific number of trees, holding them in place with florist’s wire and creating a designer look. Hirt has been donating a tree to the Shepherd’s Staff’s Festival of Trees each year, but this year, he is upping the ante. Each of the tree farm’s 10 twisted trees, which are specially tagged, will sell for $85, $15 of which will be donated to the Shepherd’s Staff. In addition, the tree farm will double match that $15 donation this year so that each twisted tree will raise $45 for the charity. (See For the Do-Gooder on page 68 for more about Shepherd’s Staff.) Learn more about Hirt Tree Farm at www.hirttreefarm.com.
For the Kid at Heart
Do you love kids’ stuff? Buying toys for your children or grandchildren? Do they already have way too many toys though? The Shepherd’s Staff annual Christmas stocking program is one way to enjoy the fun of buying for a child while benefitting children who may not receive many holiday gifts due to family financial circumstances. Buy a stocking, pick an age group and fill it full of goodies that are sure to delight a child in need. Guidelines, suggested items and downloadable gift tags and the drop-off location can be found at www.shepstaff.org/. Stockings are being collected until Dec. 21.