Church hosts Christmas feast

December 26, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Properly bundled, bags of presents in hand, Tina Bonitto's pack left Bethel Assembly of God Church in Hagerstown Wednesday and climbed into a waiting white shuttle van. It was time to go home.

This Christmas, Bonitto was celebrating her home. It had been not quite a week since she and her four children - ages 1, 2, 7 and 8 - moved into a new place on North Jonathan Street. Before that, they lived at the Salvation Army for more than two months.

Bonitto said a couple who helped her move mentioned the church's free dinner and gift giveaway. She brought her children, her two nieces and her 10-year-old sister.


If not at Bethel Assembly, Bonitto probably would have spent Christmas at her mother's place at Noland Village. But her mother spends a lot of time looking after the children while she works, so a peaceful holiday may have been in order.

"I'm giving her time by herself," Bonitto said.

This is the fifth year Bethel Assembly invited people who are alone or in need to break bread in the sanctuary.

"We're doing really well," said Ed Kennedy, who helps organize the free dinner. "We thought the snow would be a deterrent."

It wasn't.

Kennedy said about 100 people showed up. Another 180 meals or so were delivered to people in their homes.

The total of 280 free meals is about 30 more than usual, he said.

The church served up 11 turkeys and eight hams, plus sweet potatoes, stuffing and corn. The green beans and cranberry sauce were gone early, but the dessert table was plentiful all afternoon.

Becky, a Washington County resident who did not want to give her last name, decided this year to volunteer as a server.

"All my family's grown," she said. "I didn't have anything better to do."

The choice was pitching in at the church or "just sitting at home, watching TV, doing nothing," she said.

Similarly, Gary Winters, who also lives in Washington County, had no other plans.

"We have our Christmas as a family on Christmas Eve," he said. That's when he and his wife gather with their children.

On Christmas, Winters helped at the church while his wife stayed home with her mother.

Giving out meals, he said, was his way of "just serving the Lord - and others."

A friend invited Ethel Nwabara in Hagerstown to the dinner. She brought her 10-year-old son, Ike. She said the food was good, but she's not sure attending the meal at the church will become a tradition.

Anne and Ton Donlon of Hagerstown considered visiting her family in Maryland or his family in Massachusetts, but their plans didn't work out.

Instead, the Donlons came to Bethel Assembly after hearing about the meal from volunteer Richard Starliper of Hagerstown.

Starliper held the couple's 11-month-old son, Daniel, in his lap as they ate dinner.

"It turned out good that we didn't have to travel today," Anne Donlon said, referring to the snow falling outside.

Besides full stomachs, many children left with gift bags, which were packed differently depending on the age.

A bag for boys 6 to 9 years old contained a sticker activity book, a reading journal, a Scripture word search, a Monsters Inc. pin, a candy cane and a lollipop.

A bag for older girls included shampoo, earrings and a stuffed puppy.

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