Giving thanks, Giving help

Published 10:19 pm Saturday, November 21, 2009

It is a quintessential view of an America we all think we know because we’ve seen the painting so many times and perhaps even seen our own family’s version of it: Grandma setting a turkey on the Thanksgiving dinner table, surrounded by admiring family members. In the Norman Rockwell painting, there is peace, there is love and there is enough to eat for everyone.

For many families in Lawrence County, that Norman Rockwell painting may be the ideal, but it is far from the hand they have been dealt this Thanksgiving.

A mission of hope

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A small army of volunteers will descend on the Ironton City Mission this week. They will tear up loaves of bread for dressing, get table settings ready, shred cabbage for cole slaw and tick off a long list of other duties before they open the mission doors on Thanksgiving day and offer an annual holiday dinner to the needy.

The mission has been offering its Thanksgiving meal for decades — literally.

“We never did know but I found an article from Raymond Lightner who was our founder and he was saying then that ’55 or ’56 was our fourth year (for the holiday meal) so I’m thinking we’ve done this since 1952,” City Mission Director, the Rev. Jeff Cremeans said.

If dinner is a tradition, it is one that continues to grow. Cremeans doesn’t have any information about how many people were fed that first Thanksgiving meal back in 1952. But in 2006, 473 people got their turkey dinner from the mission. In 2007 that figure increased to 497. Then last year the number of people getting a holiday meal from the mission jumped to 584.

“That was the most we’ve ever had,” Cremeans said. “It was just unbelievable. I think a lot of it was the economy. Wasn’t gas up to about $4 a gallon then? That put a hurt on people. And there were people who are not typically out of work who had lost their jobs.”

Who asks for help? Cremeans said there is no one type of person who comes to get a meal. There are families and individuals, couples and single parents with children. All have their own story to tell and their own reason why they need help.

“We have the working poor, people who are trying but just can’t make it. We have elderly people, and we have people who are just lonely,” Cremeans said.

On Wednesday, members of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 51 took Cremeans shopping. He walked away with $201 in groceries that will help feed the Thanksgiving crowd.

Cremeans said he is thankful for the DAV, other organizations and other churches and individuals who offer assistance not only during the holidays but all year long.

Dinner for 585 people will require 27 20-pound turkeys, 43 gallons of green beans, 10 large boxes of instant potatoes, 80 pumpkin pies, 32 cans of cranberry sauce, 100 loaves of bread for the dressing, 100 pounds of cabbage plus drinks and other niceties. Dinner also requires some 50 volunteers who will be involved in some way with meal preparation or meal service at some time this week.

The annual Thanksgiving dinner is only the beginning of the mission’s holiday season. Cremeans said he is already taking requests for Christmas assistance.

Last year 715 families received food baskets and 1,244 children got their Christmas toys from a box picked up at the Ironton City Mission.

Helping the hurting

Most of the year they intervene in often life or death crisis situations, providing emergency shelter and counseling to victims of domestic abuse. And that care doesn’t end when those victims leave the shelter.

The Lawrence County Domestic Violence Task Force handed out four Thanksgiving baskets last week to four former shelter clients who are still struggling during the holidays.

Who is more in need of a loving hand than someone who has been kicked down, perhaps literally as well as figuratively, and is trying to stand up again?

“We want to show that we still care and we’re still there for them if they need us,” Task Force Director Elaine Payne said. “We’ll help them out.”

Like the city mission, Payne is thankful for the donations that made her effort possible. The Corner Produce gave her the baskets; First Baptist Church of Ironton donated food.

A basket of hope

On Thursday, 80 families in the Proctorville area will sit down to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, thanks to the congregation at New Hope United Methodist Church.

“We feel responsible for the community and we just want to do this,” Ardath Wilson, church secretary, said. The church has been handing out Thanksgiving baskets for more than 10 years. In addition to the food, needy families may also sort through a collection of winter clothing being given away.

The church is also a member of the Rome Ministerial Association, which operates a food pantry all year long.