MARION - "At this festive season of the year...many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts...."
Charles Dickens wrote those words more than 150 years ago. Sadly, the ever-present need of the less fortunate is a reality that continues to haunt us.
Making modern-day Christmas merrier for all in the greater Marion area is as easy as making donations of food and money to the Marion Ministerial Alliance.
Director J.R. Russell says he "really looks forward to the holiday season as a time of giving, but unfortunately our needs are year-round."
Donations collected in November and December help to carry the food pantry through the first quarter of the new year.
Canned meat is especially appreciated, and also deer meat if it is professionally butchered. Boxed dinners such as Hamburger and Tuna Helper contain larger portions which can be stretched into two meals, as opposed to a single can of Spaghetti O's, for example. Soup is always a popular item.
Russell says that 25 percent of the budget comes from the United Way organization, while the other 75 percent comes from churches, businesses, and individuals.
Russell has noticed an increased demand for services this year.
"I attribute that to the difficulty of other agencies to provide," he said. "I have been the fall-back in many situations, and we've just exhausted the funding."
Russell added that he is "on pins and needles waiting for the money to come."
He explained that it is hard to wait until the end of the year to get paid, and there has been a definite drought over the past six weeks.
Money is used to fund the Christmas Box project and help people pay for electricity, water, and rent. Many families rely on the boxes for their Christmas dinner, and also to help feed children over the break when school breakfast and lunch programs are not an option.
The pantry served around 27,000 meals last year, and 350 families received financial assistance. Approximately 4,500 sacks of food were supplied to clients.
Larry Collins and Mark W. Bloodworth were two of many who stopped in on Wednesday for lunch at the Marion facility.
Collins, who works part-time at a local restaurant, says the meals help to supplement his income. He said he enjoys the "clean and friendly environment."
He likes eating with friends and having the opportunity to "discuss weather and politics."
Bloodworth remarked that "a lot of people wouldn't be able to get a hot meal if it wasn't for this place."
Russell says that about 1 out of every 17 persons in Marion benefits from the existence of the ministerial alliance. He maintains that citizens helping out is a gift to the whole community.
"By helping us, you are helping somebody you know, and you might be surprised who that may be. Everyone knows someone, I guarantee it."