Covenant Guild marks 75th anniversary

Covenant Guild President Maxine Gordon
Covenant Guild President Maxine Gordon (Courtesy of Covenant Guild)

Covenant Guild is not your typical charitable organization. Its members behave almost like the branches of a tree — quietly growing in every direction, reaching people and organizations with big and small needs along the way.

“We just do all kinds of things in the community,” organization President Maxine Gordon said. “We’re out there — just not one of those in-your-face organizations.”

With almost 99% of requests for community services and donations coming through members, they are like the eyes and ears of their respective communities.

“Somebody’ll say, ‘I know somebody… [CHANA is] looking to raise some money to buy Chanukah presents for the children,’” Gordon said.

Or the ideas come from the members themselves. Boredom Busters — which makes age-appropriate activities bags for children during hospital stays — was started by a newer member who lost her son. He had told his mother how bored the other children were in the hospital.

Now the Guild delivers bags from the Chantilly, Va.-based company locally.

This year, the Guild is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The all-volunteer organization started with 13 Jewish women in Baltimore City. Led by Patsy Gilbert, the group wanted a charter from B’nai B’rith — a men’s organization that encouraged service to the community and mindfulness of Jewish faith and values.

Though there had been women’s chapters, Gilbert’s group wanted their own organization. They were denied the charter — so they decided to start an organization on their own.

Many children grew up with it, Gordon said. She was a “Covenant kid” who lived in a neighborhood where almost all the mothers from that block joined. It had been around for about nine years by then.

The Guild’s longevity has fostered some strong partnerships in the community. One of the most notable is with the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Department, which had initially reached out for help funding a new ambulance.

Forty years and several new ambulances later, the Guild continues to support them — and they recently returned the favor.

The Guild now has access to an ambulance bay and education room at the station once a month to distribute materials in a way that’s COVID-19 safe.

Covenant Guild Past President Lois Balser
Covenant Guild Past President Lois Balser (Courtesy of Covenant Guild)

Covenant Guild has helped a lot of Jewish organizations. Lois Balser, a past president and current member, said Jewish values definitely inspire them.

The Jewish principle of tikkun olam, meaning to heal the world, is definitely the group’s mission, she said, but their help extends to anyone in need — whether Jewish or not.

“If you help one part of [the community], it helps all of it,” Gordon said.

One thing Balser was most impressed with when she joined as a Baltimore County teacher 18 years ago was the Guild’s energy.

The group now makes 500 hats a month for NICU hospital units — it used to be a couple hundred, but they needed something to do at home during the pandemic, she joked.

Though the group carefully vets donation requests and has given about $3 million dollars — thanks to special discount cards, calendars (their “pot of gold”) and raffle tickets — Balser said they try to be just as active with nonmonetary services.

One of the coolest things they do, she said, is the Assistance in Distress program, in which one member fields calls for immediate assistance. It does not have to be financial. It could just be helping someone with shopping.

The Guild now has about 150 members, mostly age 50 and older. Their unique leadership model has past presidents stay on in an advisory capacity — so there’s always someone more experienced a phone call away.

Once members join, they’re usually in it for the long haul, Gordon said.

Covenant Guild members in 1949
Covenant Guild members in 1949 (Courtesy of Covenant Guild)

“And these 90-year-old women are incredible,” she said. “They are not sitting around in their rocking chairs knitting.”

They are doing hard legwork such as chairing a luncheon for the group’s 75th anniversary — one of several events that were put on hold out of safety for COVID-19.

Should the surge slow down and they get a chance to reschedule this fall, their itinerary would include a bus tour of organizations they have supported and a Havdalah service of thanksgiving.

The Guild also printed their own history book this year. Recognitions like that mean a lot, Balser said, to commemorate all the women who came before them and also to honor their lasting friendships.

“We all have the same goal,” she said. “We want to, in our own way, help the community.”

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