Grandview-area volunteers spread Christmas cheer to 367 central Ohio families in need Dec. 15, delivering boxes filled with food and gifts as part of the annual Community Christmas Package project.
Although the annual project is conducted by Boulevard Presbyterian Church, 1235 Northwest Blvd., the effort truly is community-driven, project coordinator Becky Elliott said.
"There's no way we could do all of this by ourselves at Boulevard," she said. "We're able to reach out and help so many families because of all the support we receive from the community.
"We really have an army of volunteers who make this project go," Elliott said. "You'll see a lot of families come out together to volunteer. A young child can help put a food item in one of the boxes and feel like they are making a contribution -- and they are learning at an early age the importance of thinking of others, especially during the holiday season."
"This project serves as a call for us to follow the example of Jesus, who was the ultimate servant," Elliott said. "His example is to provide comfort and support for those in need."
Boulevard church members were asked to bring in nonperishable food items each Sunday beginning Nov. 10, with a different item scheduled for each week, she said.
"Other churches also held their own donation drives," Elliott said. "Some chose to focus on one type of item to make it easier for their members to give. Northwest Christian Center (in Upper Arlington) contributed boxes of pasta. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church collected both toys and food items to donate."
The project culminated with a weekend of activities in the fellowship hall at Boulevard's campus.
On Dec. 13, volunteers taped up boxes, packaged cookies donated for the project and prepared the hall for the food-box assembly. The next day, more than 100 volunteers filled the boxes with the donated food items.
The goal this year was to fill the boxes with more food than ever before, Elliott said.
"One thing that Martin Butler, the executive director at Neighborhood Services Food Pantry, suggested was thinking about trying to provide more food for the families we serve," she said. "He pointed out that a lot of families have children off from school for Christmas break and they aren't getting the school lunches they usually rely on."
Small, medium and large boxes were assembled, depending on the size of the family that would receive them, Elliott said.
The contents of a medium box included two jars of spaghetti sauce, one jar of peanut butter, two cans each of beans and tuna or chicken, three canned fruit and three canned vegetable items, three cans of soup, one box of instant potatoes, one box of cereal, a box of crackers, two boxes of mac 'n' cheese, two pounds of pasta, a loaf of bread and a dozen cookies.
"We also include one miscellaneous item in each box to make each one unique and different for that family," Elliott said.
Large boxes included 35 items, with 25 items placed in the medium boxes and 18 items included in the small packages.
"We would love to include more perishable food, and we get a lot of support from Kroger, which brings in a perishable food item for each box for delivery day," Elliott said.
"If we could have a magic wish for a donation for our project, it would be if someone had a large refrigerator or freezer we could use where we could store 400 perishable items, instead of just 30 or so in the refrigerator we now have in our fellowship hall," she said.
Along with the food items donated by church and community members in the Tri-Village area, students at each Grandview Heights Schools building conducted food drives, and members of Boy Scout Troop 73, Cub Scout Troop 28 and Brownie Troop 6222 also collected food and volunteered to assemble boxes, Elliott said. Older Scouts helped carry the boxes to volunteers' cars on delivery day, Dec. 15.
Teams delivered boxes to the 367 families in 38 routes around central Ohio that day, she said.
Boulevard receives the names of the families from several area agencies, including the Neighborhood Services Food Pantry, NNEMAP Food Pantry and Syntero, Elliott said.
The food-box assembly day operated as a well-oiled machine, she said, with volunteers young and old filling boxes as they circulated around a set of stations, each featuring a different food item.
The volunteers included two sets of sisters, all four of whom are members of Troop 6222 and live in Grandview.
Grace Smith, 8, was working with Ellie Bills, 8, and Laney Smith, 7, was paired up with Ellie's twin sister, Claire.
"Some people may not have food or gifts because they can't find them, and it's important for those of us who have plenty to eat at Christmas to help them out," Claire said.
With her Brownie troop helping to collect food items for the project, Ellie said, she wanted to do even more.
"I like helping people," she said. "I just decided to come out and help pack the boxes because I know it's going to help a lot of families."
Christmas should be a happy season, Laney said.
"Christmas is a time for giving," she said. "It makes you feel good."
"Everybody has something they can do to help someone who is less fortunate," Grace said.
Holy Trinity church member Karen Eicher volunteered for the food-box assembly day -- something she's done for at least a decade.
"A lot of our church members help out," she said. "We're grateful that Boulevard takes the lead and gives so many of us an opportunity to contribute in our own way."
Along with the toys and general food items, Holy Trinity members baked and decorated more than 1,000 cutout cookies for the boxes, Eicher said
"That's what makes this project so special," Eicher said. "It's that there are so many people from the community, of different faiths and from different churches, who are all working together to help make Christmas special for families."