Grandview Heights' Boulevard Presbyterian Church: Volunteers limited for 2020 Christmas Box project

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Claire Bills (left) and Laney Smith take a brief break Dec. 14, 2019, as they joined more than 100 other volunteers in filling about 375 boxes with food for Boulevard Presbyterian Church's annual Community Christmas Box project. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, three shifts of 10 volunteers each will pack boxes Dec. 11 and 12 for the 2020 project.

The Community Christmas Box project led by Boulevard Presbyterian Church typically culminates in a busy morning during which about 100 volunteers help sort items and assemble the packages of food and toys that will be distributed to families in need.

But this is 2020, and "typically" doesn't apply.

"With the limit of 10 people due to the (COVID-19) restrictions, we're just not going to be able to do the regular box-assembly day," project coordinator Becky Elliott said.

Instead, the boxes will be assembled by three shifts of 10 people, each working while socially distanced on Friday evening, Dec. 11, and Saturday morning, Dec. 12, in the basement of the Boulevard church building at 1235 Northwest Blvd. in Grandview Heights. 

"It breaks my heart" that this year's box-assembly activity won't have the same joyful  and organized chaos as usual, Elliott said.

"A lot of parents bring their children to help out, and I'll miss seeing the children bounce up and down with excitement as they help pack the boxes and, later, help deliver them to families," she said.

Because time will be of the essence to get the boxes ready for delivery to about 275 central Ohio families, the activity will involve mostly adults, Elliott said.

"There are so many people who wanted to sign up to volunteer that we had to turn away. We just don't have the room for them, given the COVID situation," she said.

As an added safety measure, volunteers will not personally deliver the packages to families this year, Elliott said.

"So many people look forward to helping deliver the packages," she said. 

Instead of individual deliveries, packages will be taken to the agencies, including Neighborhood Services Inc., COMPASS and Hilltop Preschool, that help identify families who need the nonperishable food items and toys packed into each box.

Those agencies have confirmed their own safe method of getting the boxes delivered to families, Elliott said.

"The end of the month can be a difficult time financially for a lot of families, especially during the holiday season," she said. "Our goal is to provide families with enough food to get them through the New Year's holiday."

The Community Christmas boxes will be delivered to about 100 fewer families this year, Elliott said.

"We've had to lower the number of families from 375 last year to 275 this year," she said.

That's not because there's less food to distribute, although several area churches that usually collect food to contribute to the project are not able to do so this year because they are not holding in-person services, Elliott said. 

Rather, it's because the logistics of identifying families and transporting the packages to them is more complicated for the partner agencies due to the pandemic, she said.

"We've been able to dig a little deeper in our resources to help make sure we're not reducing the amount of food we're giving out this year," Elliott said.

A number of service organizations, including the Tri-Village Sertoma, Kiwanis and Lions clubs and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Upper Arlington, have stepped up their support to help ensure the quantity of food remains essentially the same, she said.

The Sertoma Club donated $2,000 to the project, past president Steve Coup said.

"Usually, we get involved by helping to deliver the packages," he said. "Since that's not possible this year, we were able to use some leftover money we had in our coffers to support the project that way."

The Sertoma Club has participated in the project for the past 10 years, Coup said.

"The name of our club – Sertoma – stands for 'service to mankind,'" he said. "Boulevard does such a great job leading this project that helps so many people in the community."

Most of the families who receive boxes live in the Hilltop or central Columbus area, Elliott said.

Although most of the food items have been collected for this year's project, the partner agencies have identified a few items their clients regularly mention as being difficult to find at food pantries, she said.

"Jelly and grits. That's what we hear about, and donations of those items would be greatly appreciated," Elliott said.

Donations of those items and other nonperishable foods may be brought to the church before Dec. 12, she said.

"People should enter the church using the doors on the Northwest Boulevard side of the building," she said. "You can bring the items to the church office or just place them inside the building near the doors."

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