EAST LIVERPOOL-Silent as angels and busy as elves, members of First United Methodist Church in East Liverpool gathered up brightly-wrapped Christmas presents and heavy bags of food in the sanctuary on Monday.
Outside, a husband and his pregnant wife waited, knowing that Christmas would be a little better for their five children because of the church's annual Santa Sacks program.
"This helps so much," the woman told Ruby Weymouth, program coordinator.
First United Methodist Church member Bob Herman pushes a dolly full of groceries on Monday as part of the church’s annual Santa Sacks program, which distributes food and gifts to families in need at Christmas time. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
There were so many packages, boxes and bags that the family's two-door Chevrolet Cavalier couldn't hold it all. "I think you're going to have to come back," said the Rev. Dale Sutton, First UMC pastor. The man said he would.
A few minutes later, someone else pulled up. It was Jennifer Schlee, who was there to pick up a load of Christmas presents for her 9-year-old niece, Morgan Schlee. The Columbus woman is in town for the holidays to help her niece while her sister, Carolyn Schlee, convalesces in a nursing home following surgery.
"This is basically Santa in the trunk," said Jennifer Schlee, who learned about the program from her mother, Nedra Barnhart, who attends First UMC. "We can't really afford to pull this off."
The church solicits the names of children, usually from a local elementary school, and asks them to name five things they want for Christmas. Those items are then put on tags and hung on a Christmas tree in the church.
"People then take the tags and go shopping," Sutton said. "We try to keep as close as we can" to the children's wish list.
This year, most of the names were provided by LaCroft Elementary School. Among the gifts purchased by the church were four gleaming new bikes. "We don't do computers or Xboxes," Sutton said.
This is the eighth year for Santa Sacks, the costs of which are covered by a fundraising dinner in November. On Monday, the church helped 25 children from 11 families. For those who are unable to pick up their packages, the church delivers the items.
"Not all these people have transportation," Weymouth said.
After loading her trunk with goodies on Monday, Jennifer Schlee looked at Weymouth and said, "You guys are the best Santas ever."