Following an act of violence inside a classroom that closed Renaissance Academy High School in West Baltimore the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a former Board of Child Care social worker quarterbacked a heartwarming and significant act of social action.
Hallie Atwater (LCSW-C), who worked at BCC from 2011-13, had planned to open the Renaissance Academy High School food pantry to community members in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhoods of west Baltimore.
Atwater had planned for families in the neighborhood to visit on Wednesday to enjoy a full and healthy Thanksgiving Day meal. Those plans changed when officials closed the school for the rest of the week, which meant scheduled donations for the pantry were undeliverable.
Deciding it was vitally important to provide access to the pantry as planned, Atwater set to work on a plan B. She connected with two BCC social workers, Kelly Berger and Maria Shrum, and asked for help.
With the need for food now circulating quickly through the BCC community via text messages Tuesday night, the response plan came together.
Rev. Stacey Nickerson, Director of Church and Community Engagement at BCC, worked with Shawn Elbert, Baltimore Campus Spiritual Life Coordinator, to distribute the leftover Thanksgiving baskets assembled by the BCC Auxiliary as well as the results of a canned food drive held over Thanksgiving by BCC residents.
BCC also helped Atwater collect donations from staff members, family, and friends, which all told contributed over $500 in grocery store gift cards and additional food and turkeys for Renaissance Academy families. The Maryland Food Bank also played a significant role in this effort.
In less than 24 hours, Atwater was ultimately able to secure replacement donations of food and allowed 155 families in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood and several students to receive a Thanksgiving basket for their family to enjoy.
“Today’s media culture makes it easy to generalize an entire school or neighborhood based on one bad incident,” Atwater said. “One of my primary duties as a social worker is to provide an alternate narrative when an incident paints an entire neighborhood or school community.”
Atwater points to what she learned at BCC for some of her response to the situation.
“BCC laid down an excellent clinical foundation for me,” Atwater said. “This was an unusual circumstance, but I was able to manage and access the environment because of what I learned through the clinical supervision at BCC. A huge thank you once again to everyone who responded in my schools time of need!”