PERRY HALL, Md. — On a sunny but bitterly cold morning, Fran Gustin stands outside the Seven Oaks Senior Center bundled in a coat and wearing a mask, waiting for people to drop off hygiene kits.
Gustin organized the donation drive and asked family, friends and members of Seven Oaks if they could pitch in. She collected 276 hygiene kits to give to the less fortunate.
"We just want to show them compassion and care because we know they need these kinds of things," she said.
Compassion and care are two moral codes Gustin lives by and is constantly finding ways to fulfill, such as bagging and dropping off lunches to St. Casimir Church in Canton. Her friends also donate lunches and each week she takes them to the church. The lunches are then given to places like Beans and Bread and Helping Up Mission.
"I started out making 10 lunches, then 20 lunches, I told friends about it. And what’s been really wonderful, I just feel so heart-warmed and blessed that so many of my friends are involved with it now."
Those friends include the ones she's made at Seven Oaks, a place she considers to be a second home. When COVID-19 shut the center down, and it remains closed today, Gustin found ways to stay connected to members who also missed that social interaction.
"I’ve been calling several of our members that live alone and just checking in on them. They’ve become great friends."
"It’s really nice because a lot of these seniors might not have family, or if they do their families are too busy. So to have that person check in on them, they said it’s been wonderful," said Courtney Gonce, the assistant director at Seven Oaks.
"Fran is so cheerful, always in a good mood, wonderful and so very helpful here at the center and in the community," Gonce said.
When the senior center is able to reopen, Gustin looks forward to taking an in-person exercise class. Until then, she's happy to use the center as a home base for her charity work, giving her a sense of purpose in these uncertain times.
"I always think about one of the prayers, 'In giving we receive' and I feel like I’ve received so much joy from being able to give," she said. "When I see all the joy, the laughter, the willingness and the commitment that other people have toward it, it gives you more energy to go out and do more."