- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Wednesday night, volunteers and students with Auburn United Methodist Church assembled and taped 490 cardboard boxes in the church’s food pantry. Stacked on tables arranged in neat lines, the boxes were ready to be filled with everything needed to cook a holiday meal.

“Every year, we do what we call holiday distribution for Thanksgiving and other dates near Christmas,” AUMC food pantry volunteer Angela Rogers said. “It’s unlike what we can do every other time of the year.”

AUMC Associate Pastor Charles Cummings said the church’s food pantry serves about 75 families each Friday. But for four Fridays leading up to Christmas, the church is able to give boxes filled with baking supplies, fruits and veggies and even holiday turkey or ham to families who have pre-registered. The first 490 boxes will be distributed Friday, and even more will be distributed on Dec. 4, 11 and 18.

“It’s just something that has grown over the years,” he said. “We work closely with the Food Bank of East Alabama. The holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, are very important, both to the community and to the volunteers.”

Families in need can still register for the three December dates.

Last year, each box cost about $38 to fill with everything from stuffing mix and cornmeal to cranberry sauce and yams. The boxes also have things like cereal to help families with kids who aren’t getting school meals during the holidays.

“It’s a big undertaking,” Rogers said. “We buy what we can from the Food Bank because we can stretch our dollar, and we buy the rest at Kroger.”

Rogers, who has volunteered at AUMC for more than a decade, said the church has been doing holiday distribution for the past several years.

Friday, volunteers will be stationed at different points to run boxes. Families show the card they were given during registration, and volunteers bring the boxes to their cars. Cummings said teams from Auburn University, like basketball and gymnastics, along with Auburn firefighters also join in on the distribution fun.

“People are just excited,” she said. “You have grandmothers coming with their grandkids, older people, people with disabilities. It’s a lot of fun. We’re all out there together.”

It’s also a way for volunteers to minister to the community.

“Our mission is to be the hands and feet of Christ,” Rogers said. “You don’t see it a lot in Auburn, and we don’t talk about it in Auburn. But there are pole here that don’t have enough.

“It’s just a way to reach people in the community and let them know that someone cares.”

A number of AUMC groups tag team to get the boxes ready. Wednesday, the church’s senior youth D-group helped get the boxes ready. Rushton Davis, 17, was one of several students who braved the rain Wednesday to help.

“Weather isn’t going to stop Thanksgiving next week, so it shouldn’t stop us from helping people have the best Thanksgiving they can have,” she said.

Davis added she recently did a project on hunger and found surprising local statistics.

“It’s like over 36 percent in Lee County live under the poverty line, which is a lot to brush under the rug,” she said, adding AUMC’s work is in addition to the efforts of the Food Bank of East Alabama and other local organizations. “It’s just eye-opening to see how real the hunger is.”

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