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Volunteers toast Christmas with free breakfast

December 26, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Before the Christmas sun had risen, the kitchen at the REACH shelter in Hagerstown was stirring - and frying, mixing, brewing and toasting.

Crossroads Church volunteers were fixing a full breakfast for people staying at the shelter.

People such as Peter Banos, 54, who said he's been at the shelter for a few months because his West Franklin Street apartment building was sold and his lease wasn't renewed.

And Leon West, 59, who said he was "put out" of the nearby Hagerstown Rescue Mission - where he has lived for two years - for something he didn't want to explain.

Crossroads Church, which is based at the movie multiplex on Leitersburg Pike, north of Hagerstown, has served Christmas breakfast for the homeless for four or five years, Pastor Chuck Frank said.

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"It's a way for us to be able to show people that God loves them ... to show God's love on Christmas morning," Frank said. "It doesn't get any better than that."

The first wave of the church's 25 volunteers started preparation work at about 5 or 5:30 a.m.

With good smells and sizzles coming from the kitchen, shelter residents were primed to eat shortly after 6 a.m., Frank said.

The breakfast at the REACH, or Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless, shelter on West Franklin Street wasn't the only free meal planned for Christmas in Hagerstown.

Also scheduled were an evening dinner at the shelter and a midday dinner at Bethel Assembly of God Church on Wilson Boulevard.

Several hundred people used to go to the Four Points Sheraton on Dual Highway for free food on Christmas, but host Nick Giannaris ended the annual tradition after the 2002 meal.

REACH shelter resident Carol LeDeay, 46, said her life worsened when a man with whom she was living went to jail almost three years ago.

LeDeay, a Texas native who came to Hagerstown about 20 years ago, said she receives disability assistance from the government. With $628 a month in income, she has found it tough to find an apartment that doesn't swallow up her budget.

Banos, who receives Section 8 housing assistance, said he's facing a similar problem, but is optimistic something will come up soon.

Christmas Eve was bittersweet for Banos, a New Jersey native who grew up in Montgomery County, Md. He said it marked the 42nd anniversary of when he married his wife.

Before she died in July, he promised her another anniversary together, he said. Now, he'll spread her ashes.

Each of the three shelter residents called the breakfast a tasty Christmas treat.

Volunteers estimated that they served eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, coffee, juice and cookies to about 60 people.

Frank said the return is great for the volunteers, too. "We walk out getting more than we've given," he said.

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