In a community that food pantry leaders regularly have praised as generous, donors’ goodness came right through the door of Love Chapel — just before coordinators began discussing the upcoming Christmas Pantry.

Volunteers’ unloading last week’s delivery of 100 turkeys donated by Walmart serves as one example of how the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches coordinates the annual project to provide a free holiday food basket to about 1,000 local families in need who register by the Dec. 13 deadline.

Organizers said the record number served for the program is 1,200 families a few years ago.

About 25 local Christian churches provide the bulk of food and finances for the baskets of holiday food valued at about $80. They include a turkey or ham, potatoes, stuffing mix and other entrees that would be part of a holiday meal.

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Pickup this year will be at FairOaks Mall, a more visible location than in past years, partly to make the program better known, Love Chapel executive director Elizabeth Kestler said. But she expects the need to be greater than last year, when 900 households got baskets, for a simple reason.

“We have found from our clients that the cost of living here is still a challenge, and wages have not gone up to fully compensate for that,” Kestler said.

Plus, she said many local retirees are struggling to make ends meet. Others are facing financial difficulty for different reasons.

One woman registered for the Christmas Pantry mentioned that she was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago — all while trying to raise a grandchild on her limited disability benefit and care for her 86-year-old mother. Those challenges led to a drain on her finances, the woman said.

Columbus resident River Elliott, who began shopping monthly at Love Chapel’s food pantry earlier this year after losing his job, said he also will register for the Christmas pantry.

“Maybe I can invite some of my friends, who also are pretty needy, over to eat (a holiday meal),” Elliott said.

Acknowledging that he needs help has been difficult, he said.

“I was raised as a man that you must learn to do for and take care of yourself,” Elliott said.

He said waiting so long to finally come to Love Chapel caused him to lose weight because, some weeks, he didn’t have enough to eat.

Sue Putterill will serve as one of about 300 volunteers for the holiday pantry for the third year in a row. She said she always has felt motivated to help others.

“It’s such a worthwhile cause, and it’s so well-organized,” Putterill said.

IUPUC annually donates 150 hams for the cause, Kestler said. She added that Love Chapel staff and volunteers will spend about $15,000 for other items, from packets of gravy to vegetables, for the baskets.

Although Love Chapel is a Christian agency that receives no public funding and no United Way of Bartholomew County grants, it serves all people from all backgrounds and beliefs, Kestler said.

About the Christmas Pantry

There is no financial criteria linked to Love Chapel’s baskets of about $80 worth of food linked to a holiday meal. People requesting help merely must register by Dec. 13 through the Holiday Helpline at 812-375-2216 and prove that they have lived in Bartholomew County for the past 30 days and bring personal identification, according to guidelines.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.