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Showing spirit of Christmas

Volunteers help hand out various food items including bread, desserts, potatoes and other boxes of food during the annual Christmas With Dignity event.

The sharp wintry chill of Saturday morning seemed not to touch the two dozen volunteers at St. Paul Lutheran Church as they grabbed box after box off the semi truck parked on Center Street, stacking them on the sidewalk.

Slicing open one, Mark McPherson of the Lutheran mobile food pantry showed a box filled with meats and vegetables, enough to last for several days.

Just the regular stuff off a grocery store shelf for some. But to those lined up outside the church’s parish hall, those were boxes of hope.

McPherson and Brad Draper, also of the Lancaster-based mobile food pantry, had come to Ironton to help in the distribution of food for St. Paul’s annual Christmas With Dignity.

But McPherson was already familiar with the needs in Lawrence County and southeastern Ohio. He comes down twice a month to St. Paul’s to give away food and the number of families the pantry serves continues to grow.

“We had 30 new families last time,” he said. “And 35 to 59 (years old) is the biggest group. It’s the underemployed. Those not making enough to support their family. They make too much for subsidies.”

That demographic is among the ones St. Paul’s congregation strives to serve each Christmas with its food giveaway. The local parishioners team up with the food pantry and the congregation from All Saints Lutheran in Worthington.

“I’ve been doing this since day one,” Terry Null, a parishioner, said as he waited to take the sign up tickets from those lined up to get their boxes. “It’s rewarding. It is something I can put back into the community.”

As in the past the church provides food for 600 households who register to participate in the program weeks earlier. Usually volunteers spend three days taking the reservations, but this year had to cut back a day when they filled their quota sooner.

“There were so many,” Null said.

Just before the doors opened at 10 a.m. to start the distribution the Rev. David Ritchie, pastor of St. Paul’s, gathered the volunteers inside the parish hall for prayer

“You have the spirit of Christmas when you feed the hungry,” Ritchie told the group. “This couldn’t have happened without the support of All Saints, the community, the businesses and other churches. And for all of you we are blessed and praise God. We are seeing the salvation of God right here.”