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Bert and Beverly Johnston are living a good life.

“We’re the fortunate ones,” Bert said from his home in Drayden. He retired from the Navy after 32 years flying fighter jets, then helping the Navy acquire them. Beverly has spent much of her life supporting volunteer organizations, such as the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society.

“We’ve been blessed with good health, with good families,” he said. But there are other people who didn’t have such a great start. “I can’t help but think if it weren’t for the grace of God, that could be anyone of us.”

In that spirit, the Johnstons are kicking off this year’s United Way campaign. The breakfast is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 14, at the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department. Companies, churches and individuals interested in attending the breakfast or supporting the campaign should contact the United Way of St. Mary’s County.

The campaign will last through Christmas. Businesses often allow employees to contribute directly to the St. Mary’s County charity of their choice through payroll deduction. They can give incrementally or contribute a lump sum. And, donors can give on the United Way website at

The United Way supports more than 35 charities in St. Mary’s County, including volunteer rescue squads and hospice. “So, when you give in St. Mary’s County, you’re going to feel it,” said Executive Director Jennifer Hollingsworth.

In addition to United Way’s annual fundraiser, Hollingsworth said she’s working on finding a place to store food for a program that gets snacks to elementary school students whose families struggle economically.

“We have a lot of people who are actually floored that we have hungry children in our schools,” Hollingsworth said. “I have a lot of volunteers ready to go, but we just don’t have a place to store the food.”

The program, called Snack Sak, started in one school last fall and it’s growing fast. Volunteers from the Southern Maryland Food Bank fill backpacks with food kids can prepare, such as popcorn, fruit cups and cans of soup. Volunteers work with teachers to send a select group of students home with the bags on Fridays.

Now, the program is in four schools. And, Hollingsworth wants it in every St. Mary’s County elementary school. “There’s hungry children in all of them,” she said.

She’s also organizing this fall’s Day of Caring, where volunteers give facelifts to United Way agencies that don’t have staff, time or money for their own repairs.

It’s the kind of work that, for 40 years, United Way volunteers have done behind the scenes, Hollingsworth said. “But, I don’t want us to be behind the scenes anymore.”

So, she’s in the community, making connections and meeting needs. And, the Johnstons want to help any way they can.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Bert said. “We’re all here to help one another.”

Beverly agreed. She wants to be a vessel that not only contains goodness but pours it.

“God, use me. That’s my prayer every day,” she said. “We’d like to increase people’s awareness about how much the United Way makes a difference in lives in Southern Maryland.”

To learn more

To attend the United Way of St. Mary’s County’s kickoff breakfast, or to support the campaign in other ways, call 301-862-5577. For more information or to donate to the United Way go to