Baskets of joy for Thanksgiving

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Abiding Hope Church fills 1,500 food boxes for needy families

By Ramsey Scott

It takes more than just the will to help and the desire to give to feed thousands of people. 


It also takes an assembly line that would have made Henry Ford proud. 

Inside the small gym at South Jeffco’s Abiding Hope Lutheran Church on Nov. 22, 100 volunteers, many of them children, lined up along two banks of tables set up between hundreds of pallets of food. 

Eileen Schoenberger, a member of the church, shouted  instructions before the assembly line got moving. 

The goal was to put together 1,500 boxes of food. Each box, which feeds six to eight people, was filled with an assortment of items the church had purchased with cash donations from the congregation and other groups. The  boxes were then loaded onto trucks and vans and taken to a variety of nonprofits that distributed the food. 

In the program’s 26 years, Abiding Hope has mastered the art of putting together thousands of baskets of Thanksgiving food in an efficient blur of hands powered by big hearts.

As each box slid down the table, the volunteers quickly deposited boxes of cornbread mix, bags of stuffing and pounds of potatoes and rice before sliding the box down to the next station.

“It’s just a well-oiled machine,” said first-year volunteer Shanon Schuknecht. “It’s exhilarating. Also, because you know you’re helping families all over the area.” 

Less than an hour and a half later, the once-packed gym was empty, and 40,000 pounds of food was on the way to hungry families. This year 200 of the boxes went to flood victims in Lyons, while the rest went to nonprofits across the metro area.

“This has just kept growing and growing,” said Schoenberger. “This is what a community is. A lot of these people are not from our church. They’re just from the area and the community. I don’t really have to send out e-mails anymore. People just get in touch with us now. “

Abiding Hope has put together food baskets for those less fortunate on the Friday before Thanksgiving for the past 26 years. And with each year, the desire to help more people has increased the size and scope of the mission. 

Volunteers from the Boy Scouts, Chatfield, D’Evelyn and Dakota Ridge high schools, and other groups have expanded the charitble impact of Abiding Hope over the past 26 years — after starting with 12 baskets the first year. 

But Jim Cronin, who started the program in his backyard 26 years ago, said it still isn’t enough. No matter how many families are helped, there are always more in need. 

“We’ve got to do more. If we don’t help these people, who will?” Cronin asked. “We’re just trying to help these people out. Give them a little hope is all.” 

Cronin said the original goal was to make sure the children of the church saw how less-fortunate people lived. It was an important lesson to remember, especially during Thanksgiving.  

“The only difference between them and us is luck, sometimes,” Cronin said. “We wanted the kids to see that no matter what was happening to those people in their lives, they were just like us.”

While the program has become too big for the church to distribute the food, the lesson remains the same. 

“This was my first year, but I want to do it again next year. I thought it was a lot of fun,” said 10-year-old Ezekiel Kuntz. “I am just thankful for my family and getting the chance to do this and to help people. … There’s a lot of people that need help.”

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.