GAITHERSBURG—Janet Neumann was presented with the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award for her 17 years of work with the non-profit organization Gaithersburg HELP.
Gaithersburg HELP came to be out of an idea from the local faith community in the late 1960’s. They realized that emergencies can happen quickly but those in need of government assistance often have to wait for help. The goal of Gaithersburg HELP is to provide short term assistance to members of the local community.
The organization has grown to include 22 member congregations and over 200 volunteers, according to the Gaithersburg HELP website. They also receive help and donations from local businesses and civic organizations.
Neumann got involved with Gaithersburg HELP in 2002 after retiring from her career as a nurse. She explained that she found an ad in the Gaithersburg Gazette asking for more food pantry volunteers and she answered the ad.
“So, I called in and got trained and I worked one day a month for about one month before they found out I had worked as a nurse,” she said.
Her role as a food pantry volunteer quickly transitioned to the prescription team where she helped give funding and cover the cost of prescriptions for people in the community.
“One day a woman called me, she’s crying her eyes out and sitting in her car at a pharmacy parking lot with her two-year-old child that has the flu,” Neumann said.
She explained that the flu medicine the infant needed wasn’t covered by her insurance. But the pharmacist directed her to Gaithersburg HELP and Neumann was able to facilitate funding for the medicine the same day.
“And so, within five minutes I called back to the pharmacy and approved payment for the medication,” Neumann said.
Her quick work is one example of the support Gaithersburg HELP is able to give to the community.
Neumann’s role at the non-profit has continued to change over the years. She has acted as a grants writer, worked on outreach, and even implemented the organization’s new website.
Peter Franchot, who serves as the Comptroller of Maryland, presented the award to Neumann on April 5.
“This organization is made up of people that help their neighbors and fellow citizens, and what higher ideal could there be?” he asked.
The William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award was created by Franchot in honor of Baltimore Mayor William Schaefer. During his four terms Schaefer gained a reputation for consistently giving to those in need, according to Franchot.
“People could approach him with any concern he would never turn anyone away,” he said. “No panhandler ever got anything less than five dollars from him.”
Franchot explained that his staff would sometimes pull on his sleeve and point out that he didn’t have to respond to every single request by a citizen, but he really felt he had a duty to his community.
“He was a World War II veteran who really believed in governing for the right reasons, to help the little guy and help the people that are really in trouble,” Franchot said.
The award is given to people in Maryland that best exemplify Schaefer’s commitment to helping other people.
Neumann was presented with a glass prize and a medallion to recognize her work with Gaithersburg HELP.
She was quick to thank her husband Dan Neumann in her acceptance speech. She noted that her years of volunteer work would not have been possible without her husband’s job to support the two of them. Her husband admitted he’s often roped into helping out with the organization as well, usually when it comes to outreach.
In attendance at the awards ceremony were many other members of Gaithersburg HELP who work alongside Neumann.
Kim McColl was recruited by Neumann to volunteer with the charity. She explained that the work that Gaithersburg HELP does is a good reminder to recognize the needs of others.
“We all get in out own little cycle,” she said. “I think sometimes we forget that there are people out there that don’t have enough to eat, or don’t have a home, or can’t pay their electric bill. I just think that Janet and Gaithersburg HELP reminds us that there are those people out there.”
Neumann has also spent the last 10 years as a board member for the Upper Montgomery Assistance Network which is a sister organization with Gaithersburg HELP.
In past years the award has gone to organizations like Farming 4 Hunger and the Life Crisis Center. Winners are nominated by other members of the community.