For Mount Washington resident Mira Lichter, Thanksgiving preparations began especially early this year. Since late August, Lichter and her family and friends have been collecting preowned winter clothing, hats, scarves, gloves and individual travel-sized toiletries.

Early this Thursday morning, on Thanksgiving, Lichter, her husband, Larry, their two daughters and about 39 of her family members and friends plan to travel to the corner of Baltimore and Gay streets in downtown Baltimore and donate all of the collected items to the homeless and indigent. They will also set up folding tables and serve hot Thanksgiving meals, with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all of the holiday’s traditional staples.

It’s become an annual tradition for Lichter and her family, one started five years ago when one of the parents in her daughter’s soccer league, Chris Leone, asked for help gathering supplies for a Thanksgiving morning visit downtown to feed the needy. Lichter readily agreed, viewing it as a way to teach her children the importance of giving back.

“It enables them to see the people they’re helping, not just if you were making cards or something [and] don’t get to see the recipient,” said Lichter, a stay-at-home mom. “On Thanksgiving Day, you do get to see the recipient and actually, now that they know we’re coming, the people are lined up waiting for us before we get there at 7:30 in the morning.”

Because the drive now gathers so many items — enough to provide for about 250 people – Lichter said she drops off everything she has collected at Leone’s house the day before Thanksgiving, where volunteers sort the items into piles of clothing and toiletries and donate money to pay for the following day’s home-cooked meal.

Then, they rent a U-Haul, load everything they’ve sorted onto the truck, and head downtown on Thanksgiving morning to begin distributing items.

“Someone says, ‘I really need a sweatshirt,’ or ‘I would really like to have a new coat that fits me,’” Lichter said. “They know where to get it, it’s not total confusion.” Whatever items remain, she said, are donated to the nearby Helping Up Mission on Baltimore Street.

A Beth Tfiloh congregant, Lichter said the generosity of Baltimore’s Jewish community to the drive is overwhelming — literally. She said donated items usually fill the first floor of her house, from the front door all the way down the hallway to her kitchen and living room.

“We have bookbags, rolling suitcases, duffel bags, pillows, toiletries,” Lichter said. She said she even uses her summer vacations as an opportunity to collect many of the toiletries.

Lichter said participating in the drive has special meaning for her and her family. “I am so excited that this has spread via word of mouth,” she said. “First, Chris approached us to help out, and now we have spread the word to another part of the Baltimore community.

“At the end of the morning on Thanksgiving, my heart is so full,” Lichter said. “I feel like we’ve done a mitzvah.”

Alex Holt is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.

Photo of Mira and Larry Lichter with their daughters are shown volunteering downtown a few Thanksgivings ago (Provided by the Lichter family)

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