Local News

December 21, 2013

Deck the halls and set the tables

Antioch volunteers dish out food, toys to families

Lydia Diego’s three children played happily on the floor of the cafeteria at Antioch Elementary School with their new toys as she and husband William Gaspar looked on.

“It’s a really good help,” Gaspar said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. “We’re very happy we got the help.”

Diego stays at home with the children while Gaspar works in a local carpet mill. They were among about 150 families the school invited to receive the toys, a stockpile of food to last over Christmas break and some common household items like laundry detergent.

School leaders said teachers and other adults at the school selected families they knew could use the extra assistance, especially as they can’t rely on the school breakfasts and lunches to help feed their families. School counselor Jennifer Schneider said a group of volunteers delivered Thanksgiving food to between 40 and 50 families earlier this year, but this marks the first time they’ve had an organized Christmas distribution at the school itself.

Alfred Turley, one of the pastors at Rock Bridge Community Church, said the church volunteered to help in the project once they learned of the need. The Northwest Georgia Branch of the Chattanooga Area Food Bank pitched in food while the church helped cover part of the food costs and other expenses. The school’s student leadership team held a toy drive in which they collected 2,000 new and gently used playthings that youngsters were allowed to pick out for themselves as families came through.

Michelle Thompson of the food bank said volunteers were also distributing food to families of children who attend Chatsworth Elementary, Coker Elementary, Spring Place Elementary and the Murray County Pre-K Center. They are dishing out 17,000 pounds of food among all the schools and will serve about 1,800 people.

Turley said Rock Bridge’s Chatsworth location is volunteering to help in the Murray County schools.

“We just were really overcome by the level of poverty in our community,” he said when asked how the church became involved in the effort.

Teachers and others in the local schools, he said, are “unsung heroes” who work to make sure the children who are enrolled there and their families not only get an education but also have their physical needs provided for.

“They are in many ways doing what the church should do,” he said.

Turley said the church had already done something similar at Roan School and decided they’d be able to adopt another school in Whitfield County. Church members were on hand to greet families Saturday and pray with them if asked.

Principal Tami Dodd said teachers and others will do whatever is needed to take care of their families. Some of them, she said, were worried how they would be able to feed their children over Christmas break. A few Antioch community families were unable to attend the event and Dodd said volunteers will deliver food and toys to those who couldn’t come because they lack transportation or for other reasons.

Lydia Diego said her family — including children ages 9, 7 and 4 — were grateful for everything. She said getting the food will mean the family can pay off some bills since they don’t have to spend as much on groceries.

“We wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year,” Diego said.

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