Outreach programs a reminder that the needy appreciate help beyond Christmastime

By JoAnne Viviano

Evert Madden struggles to make ends meet for himself and his 4-year-old son during cold-weather months when he can’t find work laying blacktop.

Help is easier to come by at Christmastime, but not so much at this time of year, the single dad said. So he was touched when he was handed an Easter basket for his son at the Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio Westside Food Pantry.

“It means a lot to me to see him happy,” said Madden, 29. “All he talks about is Easter coming up, and it’ll mean a lot to him when he sees that candy.”

The basket, filled with grass, candy, bubbles, clay, playing cards, plastic eggs and egg dye, is one of 300 donated to the pantry by a local group of about eight women, manager Janice Edwards said. “There are many children who wouldn’t get a basket at Easter time without them.”

Edwards, whose pantry serves 55 to 85 families each weekday, said she wasn’t sure why the Easter season doesn’t spark more donations of food and other items.

“For the people who are homeless, every day’s the same,” she said. “Whether it’s Christmas or Easter, they’re still homeless and hungry. ... Every day there are people in need.”

People traditionally give the most at the end of the year. In 2013, the highest level of charitable giving in the U.S. — more than 17 percent — came in December, according to a report by software company Blackbaud Inc. That compares to 7.2 percent in March and 8.5 percent in April.

“Around Christmas, people are thinking about gift-giving and generosity ... as we think about God’s gift to us in sending Christ into the world,” said the Rev. Rich Nathan, senior pastor of Vineyard Columbus on the Northeast Side. “Easter is a less traditional time for gift-giving.”

Vineyard members do many service projects at Christmas but also give to the community at Easter because “this is the time of year when we experience the gift of salvation, and it’s really a natural time for service to happen,” Nathan said. “One of Jesus’ statements that motivates our church is that he didn’t come to be served but to serve.”

Other groups make a point to help the needy at this time of year.

At a recent interfaith service at Mount Carmel College of Nursing in Franklinton, students collected blankets, jackets, gloves and socks for distribution by the Mount Carmel Outreach street-medicine ministry to homeless people living under bridges and in the woods.

Ellen O’Shaughnessy, director of campus ministry, said it’s a time of year “to forgive, to love, to be comforted and to give comfort.”

“When it comes to Christmas, we want to celebrate with everyone, and we tend to forget these people, our brethren, the rest of the year,” said Ann Schiele, college president and dean.

Nursing student Yuliya Fonin told of reaching out to a homeless man on High Street after putting some change in his cup. They connected hands, he said, “God bless you,” and she said, “God bless you, too.”

“People think that these homeless people are untouchable. ... It’s not true,” Fonin said. “They’r e just people, and I think a lot of people tend to forget that.”

Increased education and service projects foster the realization that poverty is year-round, said Michelle Gehrt, the director of outreach at Crossroads.TV church, with locations in Lithopolis and Lancaster in Fairfield County. Through such service, she said, more people have developed a passion for outreach work.

“People need to see this to really believe it, and they also need to get their hands dirty and dig at it,” she said.

On Friday, Crossroads volunteers filled 50,000 plastic eggs with candy to host a mega-hunt for the Canal Winchester community. Among the church’s other service projects are giveaway events at local schools throughout the year as well as work for the homeless.

“We want to be the hands and the feet and the eyes,” Gehrt said. “We want to educate people, and we want to see people get ahead.”

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scholarship money awarded from the Mount Carmel Foundation in 2023