The season of giving has arrived, and in Canal Winchester, that means the community increases its efforts to feed the needy.

The season of giving has arrived, and in Canal Winchester, that means the community increases its efforts to feed the needy.

"We are very fortunate here that the community supports the food pantry," said Janet Bristol, coordinator for the Canal Winchester Community Food Pantry. "The community is very good about donating, keeping our shelves full."

Bristol said in the last two years, she has seen a "tremendous" growth in support for the pantry, located at David's United Church of Christ at 80 W. Columbus St.

Lately, food donations have been arriving almost every day, many times without any notice or indication of who donated the items, Bristol said.

"Some large, some small, but all are welcome," she said. "Many times, food appears. We're not even sure who put it there."

During the holidays, the number of people seeking help from the food pantry always goes up, she said, but the requests have increased more than usual this year.

In October, she said 116 families, or 432 people, received food from the pantry, which is 12 percent higher than October last year. Two weeks ago, she said the pantry already had served 53 families.

"That's almost half of what we served last month," Bristol said. "There's been a definite increase."

On average, she said the Canal Winchester Community Food Pantry has served 91 families, or approximately 345 people, each month this year.

The increase could be attributed to many reasons, but most stem from the recent economic environment, Bristol said.

"They come for many reasons," she said of those seeking help. "I don't expect the numbers to go down; I expect them to go up."

According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the average unemployment rate in Ohio was 7.2 percent in October, up from 5.7 percent in October 2007.

The food pantry works in conjunction with the Byron Saunders Foundation during Thanksgiving to provide dinners for the needy. All the schools in the Canal Winchester district participate in a food drive with the foundation to provide corn, green beans, stuffing, instant potatoes and enough money to buy a turkey for families in the community.

"At the high school, we promote it as a season of sharing and caring," said Kenda Michaels, an organizer for the food drive in Canal Winchester and a teacher at Canal Winchester High School. "It's just a way of giving back to the community."

Brian Wollenberg does much of the legwork for the 11-year-old Saunders Foundation, which helps families throughout central Ohio at Thanksgiving. He said Canal Winchester community members served about 120 families with a Thanksgiving dinner last year.

He said Canal Winchester volunteers started five years ago feeding about 70 families. Since then, they have raised the standard by also providing roasting pans, rolls, candy and a laundry basket, he said.

Wollenberg said God makes such good works possible.

Michaels said she had Wollenberg as a student and she's glad to see he's grown up to give back to the community.

Bristol said the food pantry can serve anyone in the 43110 ZIP code. It was started in the mid-1980s as a Sunday school class project that served just 12 families. She said she's been the coordinator for five years and there are about 30 regular volunteers that help in running the organization.

"It's just one of those things that slowly has grown," she said. "It's just become a bigger and bigger project."

ebrooks@thisweeknews.com