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Church hosts Christmas eve meal for homeless

Dec. 24, 2012 @ 07:20 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Corey Hardman and his wife, Stephanie, have been through some tough times recently and now find themselves staying at the family shelter at the Huntington City Mission.

The circumstances, he said, made them question their faith in people. But, as they enjoyed a hot turkey and ham dinner at Trinity Episcopal Church's annual Christmas Eve meal with their 4-year-old son, Hannibal, some hope returned.

"The position we found ourselves in, we lost a lot of faith in people," the Huntington native said. "To see a large community willing to help people, it renews the spirit."

That's one of the reasons the church started the tradition about 30 years ago, said project chairman Chuck Warder. They work to improve the experience for the guests, knowing that a sit-down, full-service, hot meal may not be the norm. And, they also want them to know feel welcome among a body of believers.

"We want them to leave feeling they have had an elegant dining experience," Warder said.

Guests in the big dining hall were young and old, and each had a story about how they came upon hard times. Some had addiction, some lost jobs and some had broken relationships.

For 13-year church member Scott Gibbs, it was a stark reminder to be thankful because God's plan could include difficult circumstances for anyone.

"It makes you feel grateful for having what you have," said Gibbs, whose wife, Mary, and daughter, Mary Virginia, also volunteered. "Not wondering where your next meal is coming from.

"But it raises your awareness in your community that there are people who are really suffering and we need to try and help them," Gibbs said.

About 500 people were served a hot meal, drink and dessert, while also being offered a bag of winter supplies provided by Lavalette United Methodist Church. Priest Chip Graves, who came to Trinity Episcopal Church in the summer, said it is one of the largest Christmas outreaches he has seen and reflects the compassion the congregation has for the community.

"It's just amazing, but it's an extension of some of the ministries we have here," Graves said. "We invite them not just for food but for the food of Christ."

Several parishioners are involved in the multi-church homeless ministry that provides a hot breakfast and clothing at Harris Riverfront Park each Saturday morning. Trinity Episcopal also has the Cridlin Food & Clothing Pantry that started more than 40 years ago and operates in the basement of the church at 520 11th St., Huntington.

Low-income families in Cabell and Wayne counties can qualify by registering with information and referral at the Cabell County Public Library. They must have a valid ID and proof of residency, then be given a referral slip to present at the pantry. They can get enough food for two weeks and two outfits per person.

Other churches and agencies also can refer individuals and families. The hours are 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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