Season of need: Hundreds line up as New Birth Outreach Church gives away turkeys and collard greens for Christmas

Betty Drake walked quickly to her car. In her arms were a turkey and collards. She called the free groceries a blessing.

"I need the food. I'm hungry," the 61-year-old Columbus woman said.

Drake, who plans to feed about five at Christmas dinner, was one of hundreds who lined up in the Kmart parking lot on Macon Road Tuesday afternoon to benefit from New Birth Outreach Church's annual "Turkey Tuesday."

Another was 24-year-old Misha Sumbry of Columbus, who arrived four hours before the event began to make sure she received her share.

"I was not sure I was going to be able to have a nice Christmas meal," the mother of a 14-month-old son said. "Thank God, we'll be able to have one now."

"People are really hurting," Carlos Coleman, pastor of administration at the church, said.

He knows this by the number of people seeking help from the church. Calls inquiring about the giveaway began 30 days ago.

His sentiment about the growing number of people in need was echoed by people at the Valley Rescue Mission, House of Mercy and Feeding the Valley.

New Birth Outreach is a non-denominational church in Midland.

This is the fifth year for their event. Coleman said 300 turkeys were given away the first year and 1,000 last year.

"We have 1,040 this time, every one 10-12 pounds, and we paid full price for each," Coleman said.

The church members paid more than $15,000 for the food through offerings and 100 volunteered at the event.

Coleman said this is the "signature event" for the church, which just wanted to find a different way to help.

Helping some 230 agencies in 14 counties provide food for those in the need is the mission of Feeding the Valley, a partner agency of the United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley.

"Demand is way up this year," said food sourcing manager Kin Lincoln.

As far as supplies go, Lincoln said, "Right now, we are OK."

He feels a sluggish economy is the cause for the greater need.

Valley Rescue Mission usually sees about 30 people stop by for the evening meal. Recently, 91 showed.

"We have noticed a lot of people who have needs," Executive Director Rhonda Mobley said. "It is just the economy."

Registration to receive toys is over at Valley Rescue Mission, but calls are still being received.

"We still need toy donations, especially for children ages 8-12," Mobley said.

Some more hams, turkeys and canned goods would be welcome as well.

More than 200 people are expected for Christmas dinner at Valley Rescue Mission and more than 200 meals will be delivered to homes.

Tuesday morning, Bobby Harris, executive director of the House of Mercy, received two telephone calls from families that lost their homes and were seeking aid.

"Some families are just not able to manage keeping their homes and are being put out," Harris said.

Currently, about 68 people live at the shelter.

Harris has one family room available and just a few beds open for men and women.

He said many people call the House of Mercy seeking help with paying utilities.

Harris said the shelter needs financial help paying its bills, as well.

"A lot of people want food," he said.

Twice a week, the House of Mercy takes something to eat to the homeless.

At 2:30 p.m. on Christmas a meal will be served at the shelter.

"So far, we've been blessed and we are doing all right with food supplies and clothing," Harris said. "The community has been generous."