By Brian Prechtl
This past holiday season, BSO musicians participated in an initiative mounted by students at the University of Maryland School of Nursing to reach out to homeless people in the surrounding area. Naomi Prechtl, one of those students, is my daughter.
When asked how this project came to fruition, Naomi said, “All of us who live, work, and go to school in the area surrounding the University of Maryland Medical Center are confronted with the homeless population on a daily basis. This reality initially inspired a host of emotions such as nervousness and fear for our safety, but as time progressed we found ourselves feeling a sense of sadness and genuine compassion. When you see the same people from day to day you start to view them less as nameless strangers and more as characters in the daily story of life on the streets of Baltimore. As our fear subsided we began to see the deep need that pervades their existence. I started to keep things in my car that I could give the various people that would congregate at the major intersections asking for handouts. As the weather turned colder it was apparent that there was a real need for warm weather accessories, so I began looking around for things such as hats and gloves. I would keep some of these items and pre-packaged snacks in my car to give away. With the approaching holidays, we decided to go to a dollar store and get some Christmas stockings and fill them with much needed warm weather accessories. “
This is where the BSO musicians come into the picture. Naomi mentioned that they could use more accessories. So we put out the word to my BSO colleagues. In less than a week we collected 156 items. The students sorted the items and made up 30 stockings filled with socks, gloves, hats, and scarves. They also stuffed them with pre-packaged snacks and a list of resources that would be helpful for the homeless.
The most interesting part of the experience was distributing the stockings. Rather than just leaving them at a shelter the students felt strongly about giving these out to the people that they see on a regular basis. So we hit the streets starting with the intersections on Martin Luther King Boulevard between the University of Maryland Medical Center and Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Every person we offered stockings was so appreciative. The last of the stockings were donated at St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church where there is a regular tent community of homeless folks. The remaining jackets and clothing items were given to the “Helping Up Shelter.”
By far the most moving experience was the first stop, the Washington Street exit off of 95 where I often see a mother with a young daughter several days a week when I go to OrchKids. We pulled off of the exit and sure enough there they were. When we offered them stockings they were so thankful. The mother asked if she could have one more for her other daughter. “Of course!” we exclaimed. Then we asked if they could use jackets. When we let them pick out jackets for themselves they were so happy and thankful. The mother was crying and said, “you have no idea what this means for us!”
The world fell away from us, as five people stood at a stop light in West Baltimore – the tears shining in all of our eyes were the greatest reward we could have possibly received. This small effort on our part made such a difference to the people we reached out to and we were resolved to start earlier and do more next year.