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Frank Gray

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Charity a yearlong practice at church

It was the Friday before Christmas, Dec. 21, the day that promised to produce the longest night of the year.

Many people were probably pondering last-minute shopping they had to do or beginning to think of what they’d eat for Christmas dinner in four days.

Meanwhile, it was the first day of winter and strong winds had blown in the new season with some of the coldest temperatures we’d seen in weeks and snow, just enough to make things a little sloppy.

Just a few minutes after 8 a.m., about sunrise on the shortest day of the year, a handful of people began to congregate on the sidewalk outside Broadway Christian Church, standing there in the wind and snow, bundled against the cold, where they waited patiently for the doors to open so they could ask for help.

It’s a ritual that can be seen every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the winter and the spring and the summer and the fall. The lines never go away. In fact, in the last few years they seem to have gotten longer.

The approaching Christmas holiday doesn’t change that. People keep lining up.

Inside, a crowd of volunteers was ready to sit down, one on one, with the people who waited outside, to listen to their needs and tell them the rules.

The ministry at the church, which is supported by 23 different congregations around the city, sees about 4,200 heads of households each year, said Alyn Biddle, the pastor in charge of the operation. Throw in kids and aunts and brothers and sisters and the ministry deals with thousands of people a year, paying bills, handing out food and clothes and trying to help people find personal solutions to their often chronic predicaments.

And on this Friday before Christmas, it would be no different. Volunteers would consider requests, the same ones they hear in the heat of the summer and the depths of winter. The holiday season, in that respect, is no different from any other season.

Some of those in line needed help paying their rent. Others were seeking help paying utility bills so their gas, electricity or water wouldn’t get shut off.

One man was trying to get some discounted bus tickets so he could look for work.

Another man was penniless and homeless. He’d just been released from an institution in another state and showed up in Fort Wayne, needing a place to stay. He went to the church looking for help.

It might have been the Friday before Christmas, but the people in line weren’t worrying about Christmas shopping or Christmas dinner.

When you’re broke or down on your luck or in a corner, you aren’t thinking about Christmas shopping. You’re thinking about your problems, and the holidays don’t make the problems go away.

And Friday, in a way, was a last chance for those in line. The program wouldn’t be open on the next Monday, Christmas Eve, so there’d be no line to get into. In fact, when the volunteers went home Friday evening, the operation would remain closed for two weeks, until Jan. 7.

Then the group’s 50-week giving season would resume.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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