Thursday, December 26, 2002

Volunteers spread cheer for holidays

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

At the Point Pavilion on Scott Street in Covington Christmas Day, 5 month-old Jaden Thomas gets an up-close and personal look at Santa Claus.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
BATAVIA - Restaurant owner Haytham David stood by Karla Striley on Christmas, helping her heap plastic containers with hot ham, turkey and mashed potatoes.

The Milford resident was eager to celebrate Christmas by taking the free food to her elderly, ill grandfather. Dan Striley, 86, was feeling too low to venture to the Homeless Hotline's annual Christmas dinner on his own, she said.

"One of the most important things is to give time and to listen to what people say," said Ms. Striley, who spent the Christmas Eve helping another grandparent make homemade doughnuts.

Blessed with a white Christmas, Tristaters celebrated the holidays with a smattering of festive activities. Children opened presents. Families braved slick roads to sit in the pews at church. And, quite often, they sacrificed time with their loved ones so that they could help those in need.

This is the second year that Mr. David opened his restaurant, Papa Galo's, to serve a warm holiday meal to those in need. Wednesday, he also gave everyone a free Powerball ticket and the chance to win the $280 million jackpot.

"It's a very religious time of year when you help people out," said Mr. David, a Jordanian Christian who has spent most of his life in Batavia.

He donates the meal so that less fortunate people have somewhere to go at Christmas.

No amount of money gives him the same feeling of satisfaction, he said.

Ed Ritchy, volunteer chief executive officer of the Homeless Hotline of Greater Cincinnati, dressed as Santa and handed out gifts to children. It reminded him of those Decembers when he appeared as Santa on Fountain Square, greeting children from throughout Cincinnati.

"We're happy," he said. "It's one day of the year where people forget their differences ... (and) think about peace in the world."

Volunteers for homeless

Viijay Kumar is a Hindu and self-employed accountant. The Anderson Township resident has been a Homeless Hotline volunteer for five years.

He began volunteering to set an example for his two daughters. But he's always touched by those thanking him for his volunteer work. He was moved Wednesday when Papa Galo's patrons called him "sir" and graciously thanked him for his help.

"They're giving me so much back," he said.

"It humbles you when you come here."

The Christmas spirit also touched Cincinnati-based FreeStore/FoodBank, the third-largest food bank in Ohio and the largest emergency food provider in the Tristate. The effort that annually gives 12 million pounds of food to more than 500 agencies reached 25,363 people this holiday season, compared with 24,815 in 2001.

'Birthday Party', lutefisk

Most Tristate churches held Christmas Eve services, but not Messiah Lutheran in Greenhills.

Wednesday morning, about 50 congregation members celebrated "Jesus' Birthday Party." Several children, including 11-year-old Nathan Hackmann, huddled around a cake and blew out candles at the end of the Christmas Day service.

Afterward, they gathered in the fellowship hall and chatted about their holiday plans. It was actually Nathan's birthday, so he grabbed a piece of cake and some cookies covered with frosting.

Awake since 5 a.m., the young lad was eager to return home so he could play with his new toys and eat some of his mother's lutefisk, a Norwegian cod dish that his mother's family used to prepare in Michigan and Wisconsin. The lye-soaked fish is a holiday delicacy for some Scandinavian-Americans.

Nathan was most looking forward to spending time with his father, Steven, who recently moved to California. The rest of the family will join him soon.

"Christmas ... is about being able to get to know God more and being able to spend time with my family," said Nathan.

Pastor Michael Volk called Christmas "a brilliant day."

"The light of God's love that brightens up even the darkest times. ... That's what we're here to celebrate," he said.

"Christmas is just a special time for everyone."


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