CARE ministry feeds 1,500 on Christmas at Beaver Falls High School
By Carl Prine
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, 10:22 p.m.
There were 34 people milling in front of Beaver Falls High School in the Christmas morning chill, half of them children. The number would double by 10:30 a.m.,and double again before the doors opened a half-hour later.
Eventually, an estimated 1,500 people would come. None would be turned away.
For the 19th consecutive year, Christian Assembly Reaching Everyone — or “CARE,” a Beaver Falls Pentecostal ministry — joined with 60 churches of all denominations to serve a mountain of hams and turkeys, candied yams and peppermint ice cream.
“We never could've imagined it would grow this big,” said Rebecca Ficca Salopek, 61, CARE's ringleader on Christmas morning and a caseworker at the Beaver County Housing Authority the rest of the year.
“Back then, serving people on Christmas Day was considered a pretty foreign idea. We had 50 people on that first day, and it's exploded ever since. Our motto is ‘From the people and for the people' because we do this locally for local people. We tell everyone: ‘Don't be alone or hungry this year. Spend Christmas with us.' ”
CARE never asks for identification or proof of income. Volunteers pour coffee for the homeless who sit next to lonely widows and businessmen. One of them walked up to Salopek and gave her $2,000 to keep the program going, she said, but most donate nothing because they can't.
“If you make $50 or $50,000, that means nothing to us,” Salopek said. “Everyone is welcome.”
Many of the 260 volunteers bandied together by CARE are people who once came out of the cold to have a hot meal on Christmas. When they became employed or sorted out their lives, they returned to give back to others. The name tags identify none of the local politicians and civic leaders who toil anonymously, taking out trash or slicing pies alongside everyone else.
Some of them kneel and pray with the poor for a better 2013, but others don't. No pressure.
Christian Assembly Church nearby stakes $500 in seed money annually, but the rest of the estimated $20,000 in food and toys for the kids comes from merchants and the Marine Corps' “Toys for Tots” program.
Zymon Campbell, 6, said he wanted a Lego set so that he could “build a ship.” Arajha Young, 6, asked for a Barbie. Da'Shean Anderson, 7, said he wanted a football. Tiereney Tucker, 9, an iPod. Shawnta Haskins, 6, a list of high-tech gadgets only a kid could understand. And Brandon Coles, 8, an X-Box game console.
“Santa still owes me that,” said Brandon, a Beaver Falls Elementary third-grader. “I asked for it last year.”
CARE couldn't promise that Brandon would get his gaming gizmo, but volunteers make sure every child leaves with a present. All leftover meals and gifts go to shelters for abused women and the homeless, as well as nursing homes.
CARE doesn't stop helping after Christmas. The volunteers return at Easter to reach out to the poor in Beaver County's housing projects. On Thanksgiving, they make dinner for senior citizens.
“We just thank God for allowing us the great privilege of doing this,” Salopek said. “We give away everything, so every year we're like Jesus. We step out of the boat and into the water.
“Sometimes that wears on me. I can't sleep, and I worry about how we're going to do it next year. And every year God calls my bluff. He chuckles when I can't sleep, and he gives us everything we need.”
Carl Prine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7826 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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