Joy of giving

Steven Beo found out first-hand Tuesday the joy of helping others.The 13-year-old Enterprise Middle School seventh-grader was one of 16 teens from the Desert Hills Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in West Richland who helped hand out food to 227 families through the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission's holiday food box program.

As Steven carried a box full of everything needed for a Christmas meal to load in one family's car, he said the thanks that he received each time made him feel good.

The mission's one-day Christmas food box distribution is a holiday tradition that means the difference between a holiday meal and none for some Tri-City families.

Steven said he decided to volunteer after his sister, Tracey, 15, told him it was rewarding to see the expressions people had when they received the food. She helped serve Thanksgiving dinner at the mission.

"It's just fun to be with your friends and help people out," he said.

Javi Fernandez, 18, said it's important to volunteer and give back to those less fortunate, especially during the holidays. She also helped serve food at the mission's Thanksgiving dinner.

Service is important as a Christian, the Hanford High School senior said.

Mary Vera Sanchez of Pasco, and her4-year-old grandson, Troy Flores, were among those who came to get their Christmas meal.

Sanchez said the program is a great help because she is retired and her income is limited with Social Security. She said she likely would get a chicken instead of turkey if she was purchasing the meal herself.

It's important to have help like the holiday boxes with the tough economy, Sanchez said.

"People should not be ashamed to have to come pick up food," she said.

Mark Heritage, the mission's chaplain, said families signed up to receive the food boxes between Dec. 2 and 10. The holiday program likely was started in the 1980s, although it has grown since then.

The mission distributes the food boxes from its warehouse across the street from the men's shelter. But the warehouse is one of the properties Pasco plans to purchase to build the Lewis Street overpass, so mission officials expect next year's holiday food distribution will be moved.

The program provides a chance for some to have a holiday meal who otherwise might be coming to the Christmas dinner the mission will serve Friday and Saturday, said Andrew Porter, the mission's assistant executive director. The mission can seat about 80 at a time and serves dinner in shifts.

Nancy Cook of Pasco and Norma Strong of Kennewick were picking up food boxes for other families.

Cook said that for the past decade, she has taken boxes to shut-ins and others who can't make it to the distribution. She also received a box for herself, which will help her serve a meal to the seven family members who will celebrate Christmas with her.

Strong said she had five families she was taking boxes to this year. "A lot of them wouldn't have a holiday dinner" without the mission's holiday food box help, she said.

She said she also will cook a meal from her box, then take it to several seniors.

Morgan Briggs, 13, was packing holiday food boxes with dessert and bread before others walked them out to families' cars.

The Enterprise Middle School eighth-grader said she always has liked to help out and also dished out food during the mission's Thanksgiving dinner.

Morgan said its a chance to meet other people while also spending time with friends in her youth group. And she said she would want someone to be willing to give time to help her out if she was in need.

Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com