MARIANNA – Although the doors wouldn’t open for another two hours, folks began lining up outside a Christian outreach center in a rural Washington County town at 7 a.m. Thursday to be the first to pick from a large selection of donated toys, decorations and clothing.
Since 2009, Marianna Christian Outreach has offered donated Christmas gifts to those in need and has nearly doubled the number of people it serves annually for the holidays, from 362 people its first year to more than 700 today.
The Rev. Peter Asplin, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Scenery Hill, which runs the center, said 186 families registered to pick out gifts donated by a number of communities and churches.
“The donated items come from far and wide, not just members of the congregation,” he said. “People show up who are not affiliated with any congregation who are moved by God in their hearts to share their blessings with the folks down here.”
Asplin said the group also will receive a boost thanks to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which has chosen to make the Marianna center the mission intention of its women’s group in the upcoming year.
“Our donations have been fantastic,” said volunteer Chris O’Brien. “People have been so generous to us from up into Pittsburgh and all around.”
The response from those who signed up in advance to receive gifts was equally impressive with people lined up past the corner of the building, waiting patiently for their chance to shop.
“It’s like Black Friday,” said volunteer Katie Patterson of Amity. “The first day is the hot day.”
The second and final day of Christmas gift distribution will take place Saturday morning.
For this town, which fell on hard times after a fire permanently closed the Marianna Mine in 1988, the center also provides the community with a spot to gather.
“It’s a place where folks can come and be social with each other,” Asplin said.
Volunteer Joyce Anderson said the center gives her the opportunity to get out to meet and greet people while helping those in need. The center’s volunteers include members of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, St. Oliver Plunkett Parish of Fredericktown, The United Methodist Community Churches, several local Baptist churches and various supporters from the surrounding community.
Beyond the holiday season, Marianna Christian Outreach is open from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursdays and Saturdays and provides gently used clothing and household goods free of charge to about 80 people each week. The center also holds an annual back-to-school giveaway event and distributed nearly 200 backpacks to needy students this past fall.