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Doctors, volunteers pack 2,000 Christmas meals to go

December 24, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Hundreds of hands assembled, packed and delivered hundreds of meals on Thursday, a goodwill gesture that's become a Christmastime tradition.

A room at Robinwood Medical Center became part kitchen, part assembly line, part volunteer coordinating station.

This was the eighth annual Lend a Hand dinner, which has grown each year.

It started in 2002 with about 350 meals.

Dr. Scott Wegner, a founding organizer along with Drs. Stephen Kotch and Thomas Gilbert, said this year's projection was about 2,300 meals.

Last year, the goal was to deliver about 2,100 meals, but Wegner said the actual number turned out to be about 1,800.

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On Thursday, dozens of volunteers stood along chafing dishes, each person in charge of one food or one task.

Styrofoam containers zipped quickly through the line, filling up along the way.

Susie Burleson moved containers to her daughter, Hope, 5, who placed packages of jam next to rolls inside.

Hope closed each container and passed it to Kotch's 6-year-old daughter, MacKenzie, who drew a large "C" for cold food on it.

Most helpers had ties to Medical Emergency Professionals (MEP), which has been under contract to run Washington County Hospital's emergency room for a little more than a year.

Building on the founders' efforts, MEP sets aside about $7,000 to $9,000 to pay for the meal. The medical staff contributes, too.

About 15 people with Community Rescue Service arrived late in the morning to help with distribution. Chief Chris Amos said they were headed for Potomac Towers.

Wegner said the average delivery route for each volunteer driver was about one to three dozen meals, but hundreds of packages at a time go to large apartment complexes.

Dr. Scott Freedman of Gaithersburg, Md., who directs pediatric emergency medicine for MEP, helped on the hot-food line with his sons, Brent, 9, and Benjamin, 11.

His wife, Sarah, and daughter, Ariel, 19, worked together in another spot.

Freedman, who works in the Rockville, Md., area, said the meal giveaway was great: His family could experience true Christmas giving, "offering your time and anything you can do to help those less fortunate."

Denise Cetta, the wife of Dr. Michael Cetta of MEP, said she and the couple's children were helping for the first time.

She and her daughter, Francesca, 7, replenished tubs of rolls for the assembly-line crew.

Sons Declan, 10, and Max, 13, were on green-bean detail with their father.

At first, the children were leery of doing chores on Christmas Eve, but changed their minds, Denise Cetta said.

Francesca agreed, saying she realized she liked helping people who can't afford what others have.

Karen Kotch, the wife of Dr. Kotch, said the couple's children are eager to pitch in.

Sons Zachary and Christian, each 10 years old, showed up at 7:30 a.m. with their father.

"It's just a really nice way of giving stuff back," Zachary said.

"It's nice to give more than to receive," Christian said.

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