Bringing people together

Church lifts spirits with free Christmas meal
Dec. 25, 2012 @ 11:06 PM

Phyllis Roberson woke up in a foul mood Christmas morning, but after a free lunch at Antioch Baptist Church, she felt like a new person.

“They treated you like you were somebody,” Roberson, 51, said. “I’m homeless right now, and I just recently got out of prison, so it really felt great. This is the best Christmas I’ve had in years.”

Roberson was one of more than 200 people who enjoyed a free lunch and holiday music at the East Durham church on Holloway Street.

The annual event is needed more than ever as people struggle financially, according to the church’s senior pastor, Michael Page.

Page, a Durham County commissioner, greeted people in Santa attire and fought back tears as he reflected on how great the need is in Durham.

“People are doing all they can to make ends meet, and we just feel like this is a day that brings people together,” Page said.

He said his favorite part of the giveaway is the participation by other Durham congregations to make the day special for those in need.

Volunteers in a van drove through the neighborhood, inviting people to come inside for free turkey, ham and all the fixings. They left with coats, fruit baskets and toys for the kids.

“This makes me feel wonderful,” Page said. “I decided that it was not important for me to be home at Christmas. This is the way to do it.”

As a band played “Joy to the World,” the church was filled with laughter from those in wheelchairs, on crutches and in torn clothing. When they left, nearly everyone was smiling and had their arms full of clothes and gifts.

“This was fantastic!” said Steven Spence, 40. “I’m glad that somebody really cared enough to provide for people who need it.”

Spence, who learned about the free lunch while riding a bus, said this year has been hard for him financially.

“If it wasn’t for God, I wouldn’t know what to do,” he said. “But I have faith that it’s going to work out.”

Francine Bright, 47, left with a winter coat and fruit.

“This is helping me to get my stomach full, and it’s going to keep me warm and very happy,” she said. “I’ve been stressed out a lot. My husband lost his job, and I can’t find no job. So times are tough right now.”

For 49-year-old Maurice Harding, money is tight since he lost his construction job in July, but he left the church all smiles.

“Oh man, this is great,” he said. “It’s beautiful. I mean, people are reaching out to help people who can’t help themselves. I really had a nice time.”