More than 1,500 people received free clothing, shoes and toys Saturday during the “December First Saturday” event at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus.
The annual outreach invited low-income families and the homeless to a church worship, which was followed by breakfast. Attendees then were brought to the ministry center to receive sweatshirts, socks and tennis shoes. Children were also able to pick out toys and meet Santa Claus.
“It’s beautiful,” said 25-year-old mother Brandy Barker, who brought her two young children. “The Gospel, the people, the environment...It means a lot.”
The Rev. Hal Brady, St. Luke senior pastor, said they expected about 1,800 attendees this year. When they started the event more than 10 years ago, they had 700 people attend. That has grown to as many as 2,500.
“The need is obvious,” Brady said. “They’re all our guests. Our house is your house.”
In the ministry center on 11th Street, Mary Binder, 50, tried on shoes with her husband, daughter, nephew and 10 grandchildren. She said times have been hard since her daughter-in-law and children moved into her three-bedroom home, which now houses six adults and nine children.Still, she said she was blessed to be able to bring the family to St. Luke.
“It’s a blessing beyond measure,” Binder said. “(The kids) are going to see Santa Claus. That’s the only person they want to see.”
More than 250 volunteers helped coordinate the event. Brady said many tell him the annual event is what makes their Christmas. He makes sure to remind them why they do it.
“We fulfill one of the great commandments, which is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” Brady said. “This is a very practical way of sharing the Gospel.”