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Stories of economic turmoil have dominated the news in recent months, but as Shelby County embarked through the holiday season, financial tribulations could not prevent good will toward men.
The Shelby County Optimist Club sponsored the Annual Community Christmas Dinner at the Multi-purpose Community Action Agency on Christmas day, and Jean Glore, president of the club, said they helped feed around 500 people, counting those who attended and those who had food delivered to them.
Whether volunteers stayed all night or just for an hour, she said all of their help was more than appreciated.
"We had loads of help -- just wonderful volunteers," Glore said. "Some would cook, some would cut the food, and others delivered food to those who couldn't attend."
After 9:30, she said they had an assembly line going to serve people.
In its 14th year, the Optimist club has been serving the community in this way for around 14 years, she said, and this year they had around 20 turkeys along with a plethora of other tasty treats to offer. She said she thanks everyone for their donations and time.
One of those people is Connie Kelly, with Jacob's Well Ministries, who took care of gifts for the Community Christmas Dinner.
"I think everything went fine," said Kelly. "We gave away a lot of clothes, a lot of toys. We had a good response."
Kelly said the most beautiful part of the night was seeing a young man come in with his two little daughters. She said the look on the children's faces looked like they were entering a little wonderland. The father couldn't help but cry while he watched the girls pick out toys.
Another time, she said a single mom came in with six kids.
"This was their Christmas," Kelly said. "It was those two instances that made all the work worth it all."
"It's for the kids: The smiles on their faces, their eyes, their giggles. It shows you what Christmas is all about."
Leftover clothes and toys from their giveaway were donated to Operation Care.
Judy Roberts, Executive Director of Operation Care, said the donation was appreciated. Cash donations are down from 2007 because of the plummeting economy, but she estimates that the client base increased by about 2,000 people in 2008 because of job layoffs and the loss of health insurance.
Nevertheless she said Operation Care was able to do the same things as last year: the medical clinic, food and clothing, utility and rent assistance.
"God just really blessed us in '08, and He just made those dollars stretch," Roberts said.
Operation Care did, however, receive a large anonymous donation of brand new toys. They set up a toy store at the Stratton Center on Dec. 19 and provided four toys each for 214 children.
"That was a big deal," she said. "There were a few toys left over and we donated those to the Christmas at Claudia's on the 21st."
Christmas at Claudia's saw a noticeable increase in attendance in 2008. With a struggling economy nationwide, attendance jumped to a reported 1,848 people, according to Claudia Sanders Dinner House general manager Louise Riley. That's up from around 1,500 last year.
About 330 volunteers helped give food, drinks, gifts and other items.
Volunteers from the Citizens Union Bank gave their time for the event, while the bank itself donated $10,000 for the event. In total, 30 sponsors made the event possible.
Through the kindness and dedication of so many people, the lights of Christmas were clearly visible through the economic darkness.