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Thankful, always ... Hundreds of families receive holiday feast

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This Thanksgiving will be the first meal that Jennifer Abercrombie can’t afford to cook for her family.

Abercrombie’s food stamps, which the Indianapolis resident uses to feed the seven members of her family, were cut this month. If she hadn’t been able to attend the holiday food giveaway at Saints Francis and Clare Catholic Church, the family would not have a Thanksgiving meal at all, she said.

This year, 400 Johnson County families registered for the event at the Center Grove area church Tuesday, where donated food, including turkeys, boxed stuffing and cranberry sauce, are passed out for free to help those in need.

Last year, 223 families registered for the event. The number of families in need has continued to grow every year as the economy has been slow to improve and word of the event spreads through organizations, schools and people who have attended in the past, the church’s planned assistance ministry chairman Jerry Dean said.

The church receives the names of families who might need help on Thanksgiving from schools, civic groups and their own food pantry and puts together a list of who will be able to attend the event, Dean said.

A few people showed up hours early Tuesday and waited in the cold for the giveaway to start. When volunteers opened the doors to the church’s gym, where the food was set up, hundreds poured in.

The church collects donations of canned and boxed items for two weeks before the giveaway and buys turkeys and pies for the families. The food covered tables and the floor in the church’s gym, but with so many people expected to attend this year, how much each family would receive had to be limited, Dean said. Everything but canned vegetables and soups were limited to one per family, including pies, packages of rolls and bags of apples.

Greenwood resident Tammy Watts was happy to get anything she could. Watts, who recently had open heart surgery, has attended the event at the church for two years.

Food for her family, including her siblings, children and grandchildren, could cost more than $100 at a store. Watts said she barely brings in enough money from her disability checks to pay rent and the $80 a month she needs for medications, let alone extra holiday food.

The church has made Thanksgiving possible for her family these past few years, she said.

“(The volunteers) don’t look at people differently or put people down or turn them away,” she said. “If I could, I would donate because they do so well and this is so amazing.”

For Abercrombie, feeding her husband, three children, mother and stepfather on Thanksgiving would likely cost $200, nearly a month’s worth of food stamps. Abercrombie’s husband, Darren Abercrombie, was injured in a motorcycle accident over the summer and can’t work, she said.

The family receives disability checks, but those aren’t enough to pay for everyday food costs, let alone a big holiday meal. At the giveaway, she planned to get a turkey, stuffing and any canned goods she could, she said.

Families could also get other items such as macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and soup, which were donated by parishioners.

Greenwood resident Becky Hill will work six days in a row at her retail job, including today and Black Friday. She won’t have time to celebrate the holiday but wanted to get as much food as she could to cook meals for herself.

She was first in line at the church and waited six hours outside in the 35-degree weather.

The 63-year-old normally works as few as 12 hours a week at the store, and at a pay rate of $7 an hour, that’s not enough to feed herself, she said.

“(The giveaway) helps 175 percent,” she said. “It’s over and above.”

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