When Rose Silverman, of Margate, was looking for a health cause to champion in 2001, she called local hospitals and asked what medical problems needed more attention. Three diseases that affect the brain were among those most mentioned, she said: multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

So she and a group of supporters came up with the acronym MAPS and started a nonprofit group to give financial assistance to people suffering from any of the three.

Silverman soon learned Medicaid patients need help covering some basic expenses, even though Medicaid is the government insurance program for the indigent.

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"Medicaid will give money for people to buy a bar to put on the wall in the bathroom (to help them get up and down). But it won't cover labor to install it," she said. "It covers the motor for a motorized wheelchair, but not the chair itself."

So the MAPS Foundation of South Jersey, Inc. stepped in to help provide funds for costs Medicaid wouldn't cover.

MAPS spends almost $2,000 for each patient who needs a chair, she estimated. It also provides financial help to build handicapped ramps, and for smaller items like adult diapers, said new president Sharon Aloi, of Atlantic City.

The group helps about 500 people per year and has distributed about $45,000 so far in 2012.

MAPS made it possible for Marian Gambert's husband, Alfred, to find a measure of comfort in his final months, Gambert said. The resident of Manahawkin in Stafford Township died Oct. 5 at age 60, after suffering with MS for 30 years, his wife said.

His skin began to develop sores from laying on his back in bed, and sitting in the wheelchair all the time. He needed alternating pressure pads for the bed and wheelchair, said Gambert, a former school bus driver who cared for her husband's every need since 1996. She had to give up her job to stay with him round-the-clock in 2005. Marian Gambert learned about the organization from Lincoln Medical Supply in Pleasantville.

MAPS bought Alfred Gambert pads for both his bed and wheelchair, at a cost of about $1,500, Marian Gambert said.

"It made an amazing difference in my husband's skin condition," she said. "He found comfort again, when we thought he could not have it again."

Marian Gambert has given the bed pad to another patient with MS, and plans to do the same with the wheelchair pad, she said.

MAPS' main fundraiser is Sounds of the Season Festival of Dance and Song, now in its 11th year. It starts Dec. 1 through Dec. 23, and will be at Resorts Casino Hotel for the first time this year.

So far, 32 local school choirs have signed up to sing in the lobby at Resorts Mondays through Fridays from about 10:30 a.m. to noon, and 24 local dance studios will perform in the lobby on weekends. The groups usually bring financial contributions, Silverman said.

MAPS supporters also make and sell handmade Christmas wreaths for $25 each; and Christmas lamps made of empty wine bottles, holiday lights and decorations for $15. MAPS hopes to make about $15,000 this December, Silverman said, which is about what it made last year.

"We had to drink a lot of wine for this," joked Shirley Morgan, of Brigantine, who helped make about 50 of the lamps with Gail Squiccimarri, also of Brigantine. Morgan, like Silverman, has not been personally touched by any of the three diseases, but got involved because a friend asked her to, she said.

Squiccimarri, on the other hand, has been personally affected. Her sister-in-law, Mary Battaglino of Galloway Township, 73, is now bedridden with Multiple Sclerosis, which she has had for 50 years.

Aloi's mom, who lived in Philadelphia, died about a year ago of Alzheimer's, she said. So when Aloi moved to Atlantic City recently, she got involved with MAPS.

Silverman started the Holiday Festival of Trees at Caesar's Atlantic City years ago for the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, she said. She put her organizing skills from that experience to work on the MAPS festival, which also includes a free gift wrapping station, staffed by high school Key Club volunteers.

She said she has continued to work with a Christmas theme with MAPS, even though she is Jewish, as is Morgan.

"We put a Jewish touch on wreath making," Morgan said, laughing.

And MAPS isn't trying to find a cure, Silverman said.

"We have a logo that says, 'Where there's help, there's hope,'" Silverman said. "We're helping those afflicted now to live more comfortably and to live more productive lives."

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:


If you go

Sounds of the Season Holiday Festival of Dance and Song, 10:30 a.m. to noon Mondays to Fridays; and 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends through December at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City. Free gift wrapping for employees and hotel guests. Christmas wreaths and lamps for sale at Resorts and by calling 609-822-9093. Proceeds from all events benefit the MAPS Foundation of South Jersey, Inc.,

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