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Area parishioners give back to community through faithful service
Project J.O.Y. and churches feed hungry, clothe the needy
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Volunteer Matthew Beazley gives two pairs of shoes to Victoria Duda at the 13th annual Thanksgiving feast Nov. 23. Duda said she and her family were homeless and living at a local shelter for more than six months until she recently began renting a home. “I missed out on the coats,” Duda said. “I don’t even own one.” - photo by NAT GURLEY

Sometimes being thankful isn’t so much about what you have but about what you can give.

A few area organizations used the Thanksgiving holiday as an opportunity to share their blessings with people in need during the last week.

While most families enjoyed their holiday meal together, in the company of those they’ve always known, sisters Savannah Aroyo, 17, and Jade Aroyo, 14, spent their Thanksgiving serving hundreds of strangers.

For the past four years, the girls have served a holiday meal for those in need with Project J.O.Y. (Jesus. Others. Yourself.). The project was created by their mother, Rose Moon, after she was inspired by a pastor’s sermon challenging the congregation to do “something radical” for Christ.

Savannah said volunteering with the project is “crazy awesome” and gets better every year because more people become involved with the project either to volunteer or accept the meal.

Through her volunteer service with the project, she’s been able to meet and learn about the lives of people she might never have otherwise.

“Thanksgiving, if it was just with our family like a traditional Thanksgiving, I would just see a lifestyle that I’m used to,” Jade said. “My family, we all have the same lifestyle. We’re all middle class. I never get to see the lower-class people. If I didn’t have Project J.O.Y. every year, I wouldn’t know I need to help others.”

Savannah said the project is a great opportunity for her and the other volunteers regardless of their religious background.

“Giving, I never realized how great it feels, but it really does feel awesome,” Savannah said. “You finally take a step back and get on the other end of things. It feels good to give people what they maybe can’t get on their own.”

Volunteers from several churches experienced the joy of giving before Thanksgiving during the Latin American Ministries Program’s 13th annual dinner and coat giveaway Nov. 23.

LAMP Ministries set up a tent and passed out hundreds of meals to needy people on the corner of Jesse Jewell Parkway and Scotland Avenue.

Executive Director Mary Mauricio said the majority of people who came to the event are homeless, and just being able to provide them with a meal and new shoes or a coat is a blessing in itself. But seeing people get involved with the ministry was a blessing, too.

Americans Helping Americans, an organization dedicated to helping needy families in the Appalachian region, donated coats and 387 pairs of new shoes to the ministry to distribute to needy people during the event.

“We’re here and we need help like everyone else,” Mauricio said. “Our donations have been down for the past year, but we have, for this dinner, a lot of help from the churches and we are so grateful for that.”

Corinth Baptist Church in Gainesville, The River Community Church, St. Paul United Methodist Church of Lumpkin County and Community Bank & Trust all supported the event.

Jackie Powers, a member of Corinth Baptist Church who has helped with the event for the past three years, said the experience was “very rewarding.”

“When you’re there and there are children and all aspects of people in life represented going through the line that have found themselves in need of help, it just teaches you a valuable lesson,” Powers said. “No matter what you have and what you do, no matter where you are in life when you find yourself in need, there are people who care about you.”

Powers said she thinks as people go out shopping during the holidays they should remember to help someone else even if it’s by doing something small so they know someone loves and cares for them.

“It doesn’t just change their lives,” Powers said. “It changed yours.”