EAST CHICAGO | The Christmas community giveaway at the House of Glory Word Outreach Center was set to begin at 11:30 a.m., but the pastors and volunteers saw people lined up in the cold and threw open the doors an hour early.
“We felt sorry for people standing in the cold,” said Cherlyn “Holly” Davis, of East Chicago, and a church member who has volunteered as chief cook at the Care Kitchen, 4009 Fir St., for the 18 years of its existence. “Everybody was very orderly and respectful.”
Nearly 200 people signed in to receive free groceries, a carry-out lunch, toys for children, coats and the gift hats, scarves and gloves for everyone. That’s twice as many as received the donated items in past years, Davis said.
“We made 200 sandwiches today. We started earlier this morning,” said Deaconess Debbie Hudson, of Merrillville, one of the volunteers who prepares and serves food regularly from the Care Kitchen.
“There is nothing more rewarding in my life than doing this. The Lord said to feed his people,” Hudson said. “The look in their eyes is all the thanks we need.”
The House of Glory WOC Care Kitchen used to do a sit-down dinner at Easter and Christmas “with fancy tablecloths and candles, but the numbers just got too big to do that here,” said Pastor Jennifer Nelson, the spiritual leader of House of Glory WOC with her husband, Pastor Willie Nelson.
Registering residents who came Saturday involved clients signing in, providing information about children’s sizes and ages and receiving a pair of tickets. The tickets provided the system of organization and distribution so that everyone was served, Jennifer Nelson said.
“Our freezers were packed when we started this morning. We’re wiped out,” she said at 12:30 p.m.
The church program receives assistance from a number of organizations and businesses including the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage of Highland, the Foundations of East Chicago and the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana as well as from church members and other individuals, she said.
When the Nelsons came to the church 18 years ago, Jennifer Nelson started the Care Kitchen program as a community outreach program, but credits Deacon Jose Bautista, of East Chicago, for keeping the program working all year around.
Delores Hildreth of East Chicago and Barb Washington of Merrillville supervised distribution of gifts for children and adults as well as pantry items as clients moved from table to table. During their 18 years with the program, the women said they’ve seen the need grow exponentially.
“It’s a combination of a lot of relocation of people from Chicago, and the economy,” said Washington.
“For some children, this will be the only present under the tree,” said Hildreth, who has been friends with Jennifer Nelson for 50 years. “That’s why we keep doing this.”