Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a corrected error: The event will be held Monday, Dec. 24.
GREENFIELD — Everything will come together on Monday.
Local 4-H buildings, stark and empty, will be transformed into a large shopping area with tables filled with toys, clothes and housewares. There’s also a present-wrapping station set up to make sure the gifts are ready for Christmas morning. More than 250 volunteers will set everything up; a meal will be provided for everyone, and dancers and musicians will entertain throughout the day.
The Day of Love and Caring, which celebrates its sixth year on Monday, Dec. 24, brings the community together each year to provide for families who need a little extra support this time of year. The toys, the clothes and the food are donated by community members throughout the year, and volunteers show up in droves the day of the event to help parents shop for their children.
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The event, co-sponsored since 2012 by God’s Open Arms ministry and the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, provides gifts and holiday cheer before Christmas. But this year, like every year, preparations began 11 months ago, said one of the head organizers, Peggy Couch.
“We start in January collecting stuff for next year,” Couch said. “We chase down items — we run all year long to get stuff picked up.”
God’s Open Arms uses its facility to store new toys and gifts throughout the year. They make space amid the clothing they provide to the homeless in Greenfield and Indianapolis weekly along with hot meals, said Pam Hochstetler, who coordinates the volunteers for each year’s event.
“There are so many people in our community who are in need,” Hochstetler said. “There are also so many wonderful, giving people in our community and the surrounding communities as well, who are willing to give of their time and their resources. It’s a perfect combination.”
In past years, church congregations and caring individuals have provided new or gently used toys, including hundreds of bicycles, for children who might otherwise go without.
Last year, more than 200 families visited the Exhibit Hall at the Hancock County Fairgrounds, which was transformed into a Christmas dining room and Santa’s workshop.
The effort began when Tennessee-based Carpenters House Global Ministry reached out to Jill Ebbert, executive director of the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, with an idea: Open the soup kitchen’s doors Christmas Eve and offer free gifts to those who needed them. That first year, more than 1,400 people came out for a hot meal and the opportunity to pick out presents for their kids.
Starting on Wednesday, groups of high school students looking for a way to help loaded up and then unloaded toys and clothes from the trailer God’s Open Arms ministry uses every week to feed the homeless in and around the Indianapolis area.
On Friday, volunteers set up tables and sorted toys and clothes by age and gender. They propped open the doors to the fairground buildings at 8 a.m., and Couch took a photo of the empty facilities to compare them in what will be their fully-stocked glory on Sunday.
Ben Borden and Brad Brown unloaded items from a large trailer onto carts, tugging them to their rightful place throughout the building that holds show hogs during the 4-H Fair.
Kay Hastings traveled back and forth amid tables slowly filling with toys, including sports equipment, dolls and science kits. Hastings retired recently and decided to volunteer her time with the Day of Love and Caring to have something to do, and to support a worthy effort, she said.
Laurie Kirkman and her boyfriend traveled from Richmond to come help out, she said.
When the families come on Sunday, each family gets a ticket, which they use to select one large toy and two small toys, two outfits, a coat and a pair of shoes for each of their children, Hochstetler said.
After parents are done, they come back to the 4-H Exhibit Hall to eat lunch with their family, and their children have the opportunity to visit with Santa and receive another gift.
As volunteers sorted toys, clothes, blankets and more, they imagined the smiling faces of the families who would make their selections.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” Hastings said.
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What: Day of Love and Caring, co-sponsored by God’s Open Arms ministry and the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen
When: Monday, Dec. 24
Where: Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds, 620 Apple St., Greenfield
8-10 a.m.: Families in need select toys and clothes
11 a.m. – 2 p.m.: Lunch with Santa Claus and family