More than 850 children who may not have had a merry Christmas are now getting a better one thanks to Christian Ministry of Lincoln Countyâ€™s annual food and gift drive in Lincolnton.
Some 200 volunteers working in rotating shifts will provide more than 570 families with gifts, food and a warm meal in preparation for the holiday.
Each child will receive about $100 worth of toys, according to Susan Brymer, director of Christian Ministry.
In addition to a receiving a garbage bag full of toys, families could also sign up for a wheelbarrow full of well-balanced, nutritious food items.
Last year, groceries alone cost some $38,000, according to Brymer.
Though community generosity was evident in the annual drive, 2005 saw lower numbers in donations.
â€œOur goal is $11,000 short of last yearâ€™s,â€ said Brymer.
Attention toward natural disaster relief has diverted donations to local charities in some cases, said Mitzi Williams, staff member of Christian Ministryâ€™s Linc Meals, which delivers hot meals to the homebound.
â€œWeâ€™ve had to work harder in promoting the idea that there are still the same amount of needy families in the area,â€ she said.
Despite lower contributions, volunteers came out in full force, directing traffic, sorting gifts and food, serving hearty lunches and loading items into recipientâ€™s cars.
Itâ€™s a worthy experience, according to volunteer David Napier.
â€œThis is what the seasonâ€™s really about,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s about giving.â€
Local teenagers also had a strong presence, helping load and unload heavy packages and sort through goods.
West Lincoln High School brought a team of able-bodied students from its Beta Club, an academic and volunteer organization for high-achieving students, in addition to many other student volunteers.
West Lincoln student Samantha Mullins appreciated the opportunity to help.
â€œIâ€™m glad we can take time out of our own schedules to help with this,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s good for kids my age to do it. It opens your eyes to whatâ€™s going on around Lincoln County.â€
Perrell Bess, a senior at Lenoir Rhyne College, helped load wheelbarrows of food into recipientsâ€™ cars.
â€œOnce you get in the habit of helping, itâ€™s easy to help your whole life,â€ he said.
Staff and volunteers scurried around the centerâ€™s small kitchen, preparing large servings of chicken pot pie, spaghetti and other fulfilling foods, which would later be served to both volunteers and recipients.
Sandy McLay, a cook at Christian Ministry for over a year, realizes the fulfillment it has brought her life.
â€œI love this job and I love serving people in the community,â€ she said. â€œGod helped me so I can help others.â€
She hopes that her warm meals will help recipients â€œhave a joyous and peaceful time.â€
Tammy Engelhardt, a kitchen volunteer, finds that Christian Ministry is â€œlike a family.â€
â€œEveryone works together to serve others. Itâ€™s a blessing both ways,â€ she said.
Volunteer Iliana Gonzalez meets a unique, growing need at the Ministry.
As one of some four Spanish-speaking volunteers, Gonzalez provides Lincoln Countyâ€™s growing Hispanic population with kind words and familiarity.
â€œI feel very thankful that I can help,â€ she said.
The majority of families served through Christian Ministry come to the organization for help throughout the year, not just around the holidays.
Christian Ministry prepares for Christmas the entire year and seeks to extend the heightened generosity of the season. This will allow the organization to continue giving long after the holiday rush ends.
Bob and Claire Tracy of Denver have volunteered at Christian Ministryâ€™s annual Christmas food and gift drive for the last decade and have seen its efforts grow enormously.
Theyâ€™ve seen the processing and unloading areas expand in size. Theyâ€™ve seen the welcome addition of a conveyer belt in the food delivery line.
Yet they still see the organizationâ€™s importance in serving Lincoln Countyâ€™s poor.
â€œThe need grows every year,â€ said Claire Tracy. â€œItâ€™s heartbreaking.â€
Christian Ministry accepts donations throughout the year. Send contributions to Christian Ministry, PO Box 423, Lincolnton, N.C. 28092.
West Lincoln High School students LeeAnna Young (front) and Ariana Horvat (back) organize toys. Katie Rozycki / LTN Photo
by Katie Rozycki