ELKTON — Cecil Solidarity, a grassroots progressive group, kicked off its Cecil Cares week of service by serving lunch to people without reliable access to meals at Mary Randall Center. They closed the week last Friday serving dinner at the Paris Foundation, a Christian nonprofit.
Each day last week, members of Cecil Solidarity gathered in their spare hours after work or after school for different service projects.
On Tuesday, they built small, brightly-colored free library hutches which they later installed at Cecilton Elementary School and in the Thomson Estates neighborhood. On Wednesday, they kicked off a food drive to stock a winter pantry for needy families, and on Thursday they reconvened at Mary Randall Center to pull weeds, trim hedges, clean the gutters and repaint the porch.
Cecil Solidarity President Christine Thomson Givens explained that service is a core part of the group’s mission to make Cecil County a welcoming place for everyone, regardless of race or economic status.
“We want people to see us for who we actually are and not what people try to say that we are,” Givens said. “Part of breaking down or dismantling systemic racism is giving back to the community and helping build up and create a community that we all want to live in.”
While Givens hopes the week of service shows that Cecil Solidarity does more than organize marches in downtown Elkton, North East and other spots around the county, she emphasized that service has always been a key part of the group’s activities.
The winter food pantry builds on an ongoing food drive which supplies about 25 families in the area with donations of fresh produce like tomatoes, onion and peppers, largely donated from members’ gardens. Donations for the pantry filled almost 70 shopping bags, and will be accessible to anyone in need, not just the 25 families who receive ongoing donations.
Throughout Cecil Cares week, members donated time and materials for the service projects, tapping into social networks to solicit more. They served donated food — members made chili, although Givens joked that they cheated and brought in cornbread from Cracker Barrel.
The group funded purchases of food and materials for the free libraries with online donations. According to Givens, the group made over $1,000 in one day after kicking off Cecil Cares week fundraiser.
They also stocked the libraries with donated books.
“We made sure to strategically put them in places with people that don’t necessarily have the option to be able to go to the library,” she said. “It enables them to have that lifelong learning atmosphere. They can go and grab a book, and then they can give back and give a book.”
For Givens, the week is all about building and strengthening community. That comes in the form of providing meals, books or canned food for people in Cecil County without access to those resources. It also means forming partnerships with other local organizations to maximize the impact of service projects.
The group had a standing relationship with Meeting Ground, an organization supporting people experiencing homelessness which operates out of Mary Randall Center. Givens was proud to see Cecil Solidarity members coming together to do needed work that the center might have otherwise had to pay for.
“There are so many different amazing organizations within the community that give back to marginalized groups,” Givens said. “Instead of working in silos, we want to build a community where, if we don’t have the resources, we know someone who has the resources.”
For Cecil Solidarity Events Committee Chair Nick Letts, the week of service was also about strengthening bonds between community members.
“Bringing the community together for projects like these can have a positive impact through the direct acts of service, but it also provides the opportunity for engaged community members to bond,” he wrote in a statement to The Whig. “Through those bonds, we can start building the community we envision together.”
Givens originally hoped that the week of service would end with a block party, but scaled the plan back because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The group plans to host a Cecil Cares week of service twice a year going forward, and Givens hopes their spring projects may be on a bigger scale as more people are able to safely get involved.
She encouraged people who aren’t comfortable joining Cecil Solidarity in protest to volunteer their time or resources to the group’s service projects. Donating money, helping them drop off groceries or joining for an hour of painting and cleanup can have an impact.
“You have to get involved, because if we’re truly going to create a Cecil for all people, we can’t just sit back and watch everyone else do it,” she said. “It takes a community. It takes a village.”
CORRECTION: This article previously stated that Cecil Solidarity installed a free library at Cecil Manor Elementary School. It was actually Cecilton Elementary School.