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Lending A Holiday Helping Hand

Local food pantries agree the holidayseason brings with it some of their highest demand, and two localbusinesses are banding together to assist in meeting that need.

    It’s a familiar partnership.

    For the eighth year, The DAILY LEADER and the Bank of Brookhavenare launching the annual Holiday Food Pantry Drive.

    The two businesses will accept contributions until Dec. 16 andequally divide all donations among four food pantries at localchurches and ministries: Union Hall Baptist Church, St. Francis ofAssisi/St. Vincent DePaul, Martha Sykes Widows and Orphans Centerand the Greater Hope Foundation.

    Both businesses have begun the drive by contributing $200 each.Residents of the community may come to either business to make adonation.

    Donations will be tracked on the front page of The DAILY LEADER.Names of donors will be included, unless they wish to remainanonymous.

    Shannon Aker, Bank of Brookhaven senior vice president, pointed outthe drive is not just for individuals.

    “Youth groups and schools groups can give. It does not have to bean individual,” Aker said.

    The Martha Sykes Widows and Orphans Center and the Greater HopeFoundation are new recipients this year. According to pastrecipients, they have good things to look forward to.

    “We count on this money that we get through The DAILY LEADER andthe bank,” said Gwen Dyess, in her fifth year operating the UnionHall food pantry.

    The church’s pantry began in the same year as the fundraisingdrive, linking the two rather closely.

    Dyess said the church has given food to eight or 10 families in thelast month, which she called an average number. As the year comesto a close, that number may climb somewhat higher.

    “We help quite a few, considering that we are small,” Dyesssaid.

    The St. Francis of Assisi/St. Vincent DePaul pantry has also seenincreased activity recently.

    Paula Gennaro, a volunteer who works with the pantry, said the lastmonth has seen at least 50 families receive food from the pantry.That’s higher than usual, she said.

    “Thanksgiving to Christmas is when they really start to call,”Gennaro said.

    Gennaro attributed the increased need to new demands on people’smoney that the holidays bring and also the possibility of higherutility bills.

    The food pantry drive began nine years ago and has been an annualtradition since, with one year off in 2005 due to HurricaneKatrina.

    “The DAILY LEADER being the local newspaper, and us being the localbank, it was a good fit,” Aker said. “It gradually has grown.”

    The partnership has been profitable for the local food pantries.Over its eight years, the food drive has pulled in $51,081 indonations.

    DAILY LEADER publisher Bill Jacobs said the drive was successfuleven at its beginning.

    “We were surprised by the amount that was raised that first year,”Jacobs said. “It really started off with a bang and has continuedto exceed our expectations.”

    Aker said the annual fundraiser has seen continued success, even asthe economic worsened.

    “No matter how bad the economy is, people want to help out,” Akersaid.

    True to Aker’s words, the 2010 drive set records, bringing in$10,200 – the highest so far. That easily surpassed the previousrecord high of $8,400.

    Jacobs echoed Aker’s evaluation of the community.

    “The community gave that money,” Jacobs said. “We are very proudthe community has raised $50,000 to help those in need.”

    Dyess gets to see the result of that generosity in person. She haspacked hundreds of boxes of food for needy families, but stillremembers one boy.

    It was about three years ago, and Dyess met a mother with twochildren at the church.

    Both children wore no shoes, the temperature outside was freezingand then the boy saw the box of cereal Dyess had included in whatshe had packed for the family.

    “His eyes got so big,” remembered Dyess. “He said, ‘Momma, can Ieat some cereal when we get home?'”

    Dyess still thinks of that boy when she sees a box of cereal

    According to Dyess, when the church aids those in need both partiesbenefit.

    “The church is so blessed to be able to help people,” she said.