For the churches and organizations that came together Saturday, the aim was simple: Provide for the less fortunate so they can provide a dignified Christmas for their families and children.
Even before all the food had arrived for the annual Christmas with Dignity giveaway at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Ironton, people who had signed up for the program were lined up and waiting.
St. Paul’s, along with All Saints Lutheran Church in Worthington and the Lutheran Social Services Mobile Food Pantry, were preparing to handout 650 boxes of high-protein foods, vegetables, fruits and bread to those in need. The boxes can feed a family of four for a week and include about $100 worth of food.
David Ritchie, pastor of St. Paul’s, said when the Christmas with Dignity program began nine years ago, the giveaways included blankets, clothing and toys. But for the last five years, the program has consisted of food baskets.
“As the needs of the economy changed, we saw a drastic need for food,” Ritchie said. “… Two spouses cannot feed a family on minimum wage.”
The food for the giveaway is purchased with donation money from both churches, corporate sponsors and additional food provided by the Lutheran mobile food pantry.
Mark McPherson, manager of the Lutheran Social Services Mobile Food Pantry, said the mobile pantry made its first visit to the Ironton church in February 2009, and since then, each visit is like a homecoming.
“They become part of your extended family,” McPherson said.
“I want their dignity back, their pride back.”
In addition to helping with the Christmas with Dignity program, the mobile pantry visits St. Paul’s from noon to 2 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.
On those days, 150 qualifying families, who made reservations in advance, can browse the full-choice pantry and get enough food to feed the whole family for three days.
Last year, the mobile pantry helped 3,595 families out of the St. Paul’s location, which equaled 9,446 individuals.
“Every time a family comes to our food pantries, they save $75,” said Brad Draper, corporate director of food pantries services.
In all, Lutheran Social Services gave away 7 million pounds of food last year throughout southern Ohio.
“The need is definitely there,” McPherson said. “… Every place we are going, we are increasing. The lack of industry in southern Ohio is terrible.”