Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo

“I was born and raised in Towson, Maryland, and lived there until 1969 when I enlisted in the United States Air Force. I had never been farther from home than Ocean City. I shocked myself and my family, my friends, when I told them, ‘Guess what? I just enlisted in the Air Force!’

After they got over the shock, they accepted and supported my decision. I did for a lot of reasons, but mainly I just wanted to broaden my horizons. I didn’t do well in my attempt to go to college. I filled out my dream sheet where you tell them where you’d like to be assigned and tell them what you want to do. I wrote down base choices from all over the world. I wanted to be in broadcasting or meteorology. The weather was a hobby when I was a kid, and when I was really little, my oldest brother was a disc jockey in Baltimore, and I very quickly took to it and then just hung out. He took me to the radio stations every weekend. So, by the time I was twelve or thirteen, I was a full-fledged weather nerd and radio geek. But the Air Force didn’t put me in radio, television, or weather, and they put me in the security forces at Andrews Air Force Base, an hour from my house.

After my time in the Air Force, I spent six years as a police officer in PG, and then the Chief asked me to be their spokesperson, the PIO. Being PIO led me to be in daily contact with radio, TV, and newspaper reporters, and one of them, in particular, Mike Buchanan, became a friend who took me out to lunch one day. You said, ‘You know what? You should think about being our side of the microphone. You speak naturally in sound bites, we don’t have to edit anything you say, you’re very easy talking to, and even with complicated, difficult breaking police news stuff, you’re just pretty matter-of-fact and accurate. Plus, you would get paid a lot more money, and no one is shooting at you.’

So, in 1978 I put together a package broadcast reel resume with about six new stories, and the guys at Channel 9 where Mike was working helped me put that together along with a broadcast letter and made 80 or 90 copies of the videos with the letters to send out to every news stations up the East Coast. One by one, the rejection letters came back. Month after month in March, April, May, June, July, August, and September. So, I was down to the point where I only had one station that I was still waiting on, Channel 12, WWBT in Richmond, Virginia. I had gotten discouraged. I thought this doesn’t look good. So, one night before I went to bed, I prayed and said, “Lord, this may not be what you got in mind for me. If it isn’t, just let me get that last letter back telling me I don’t have any chance, and I’ll spend the next thirteen and 1/2 more years being a cop, and then I’ll retire and see what you have for me.’

Then the very next morning, I go out in the mail and in comes this letter from Channel 12. The letter started like all the others, then it said, ‘But, we don’t need a police reporter, but we noticed in your letter and description that you are a weather geek. Looking at your video, you could never tell that you hadn’t done that before, and you do a better job speaking on air than some of my reporters with Masters from Columbia. I have an opening for a person to do weekend weather and three-day week reporting. If you’re interested, I would consider that job let me know, and I’ll give you a chance to come down and have an audition. So, the short version of the story is I got the job. I only did it for five or six weeks before the woman who was the main weather person during the week was involved in a terrible auto accident, and I got a call from the director to be the main weather person.

About 11 months later, I got a phone call from the news director who was at Channel 9, Tim Snyder, when I was putting all the stuff together for my resume. And he said their company and since bought a TV station in Detroit, and they had an opening for a meteorologist that he wanted me to consider. So, I interviewed, and I was offered a position and stayed there from 1980-1984. After a while, I just wanted to be closer to home, my parents were getting older, and I wanted to be closer to family. I went on three interviews: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and WUSA, Channel 9 in DC, where I ended up accepting a job in the spring of 1984 and stayed in DC until I retired from Channel 7 in September 2017. I had an excellent career for almost 40 years, but it was time for something new.

I’ve been at Chesapeake Church for a long time, working on projects and fundraising, and I talked with Robert (Pastor Hahn) about what I might do church-wise after I retired, and he told me about the warehouse project. I was familiar with End Hunger, but I was less familiar with the hunger issue in Southern Maryland. He explained that the board for End Hunger decided to build a warehouse, actually, a complex that will house a culinary training center, and The Collaborative, a place for up-and-coming 501(c)(3) organizations to work. They are all working on the poverty cycle and addressing hunger issues; education, health, and empowerment. So I immersed myself in learning about hunger and finally got to the point where the plan was for me to be the spokesperson and fundraiser for the project.

I think that this project will have an enormous impact on our community. I think the bottom line is that it is going to allow End Hunger and the services it provides, to continue to evolve as the population changes. Kids and families have always been primary clients, but now we are noticing more and more seniors using the services, and in particular, retired military seniors. One of the problems with addressing hunger in our area is that it is so spread out. It is not like big city hunger, where they have soup kitchens and a place you go for hot meals every day. You can walk to them, or get on the bus, and get something to eat. Not here. The hunger here is rural hunger and, primarily, the working poor.

In this country, if you are a family of three and you make more than $32,000 a year, you make too much money to qualify for federal assistance. But in real dollars in Calvert County Maryland, that same family of three has to make $67,000 to keep their heads above water, so that they don’t need to make decisions between feeding the kids or paying the bills. The scope of the problem is many ways beyond anything I ever dreamed of. In fact, 13% of the population of this county last year used food pantries.

That is huge and End Hunger exists to stand in that gap and make a difference with their goal of helping people go from the dependence on the services on food to becoming self-sufficient. One of the significant ways we can impact that is by training people to get jobs in culinary sciences. And another part is The Collaborative, where we will offer affordable space to these 501(c)(3) organizations to work so they can help be part of the solution. The government, to me, is not our answer to this problem. Our hope is for young people, in their twenties and thirties, who care about this and want to make a difference. That’s where our hope lies.”

This article was published to Humans of Calvert County on October 19, 2019.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/EditorEditor-in-Chief

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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