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Giving big

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NAUGHTY OR NICE: Kids meet Santa outside the sanctuary of The River Church during “The Big Give” Saturday. The church provides boxed Christmas dinners for families in need during the event, but also decks the churchout with Christmas decor and offers hot chocolate, candy, photos with Santa and a Christmas service in the sanctuary followed by araffle.
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THE BIG GIFTS: “Elves” at The River Church in Marion deliver a 40 inch flatscreen television to the lucky winner, Brandy Gerber, during a raffle at the church’s annual “The Big Give” event, which alsoincludes giving outboxed Christmas dinners to families in need. Other prizes given out Saturday included a hoverboard, a beanbag, a space heater and a coffee maker.

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

The River Church’s “Big Give” is not your typical food pantry.

Though the Marion church delivers boxes of ham, potatoes, vegetables and other elements for a family Christmas dinner during the annual event, the church also provides a Christmas experience for kids with dressed-up characters like Santa, the Grinch and elves and, following a worship service of Christmas music and a message from Lead Pastor Matthew Trexler, a big giveaway.

Brandy Gerber had the first winning ticket in Saturday morning’s raffle and got to choose from a 40-inch flatscreen TV, a hoverboard, a beanbag chair, a space heater and a coffee maker.

Gerber picked the TV.

“I never win anything,” Gerber said afterwards, beaming.

“One of our TVs is about to go out, and the other one doesn’t even have buttons,” Gerber said. “And we lost the remote.”

After all the big-ticket items went to lucky winners, families lined up to receive their Christmas dinner boxes. The church said Meijer gave the church a discount on the food items and Cafe Valley bakery donated a cake to each box.

The River sold out its tickets to the Big Give Saturday, according to Trexler, giving out 1,000 family dinners and delivering another 200 to the homes of the less mobile.

The church hopes it can provide more than just sustenance during the holiday season.

“That’s the main purpose, feeling hope in a time of hopelessness. It’s one thing to give somebody a box of food, it’s another thing to give them hope … For people that find themselves in poverty or addiction, if we can bring joy to them, bring joy to life for them, we can show them that you don’t have to live in joylessness,” Trexler said.

Volunteer Coordinator Bridget Lamb said about 100 volunteers made the Big Give possible this year, including members of the Indiana Wesleyan University women’s basketball team.

“We just love to make it more of an experience for families,” Lamb said.

Church member and volunteer Shyann Strahm offered her time serving up candy at a “candy bar” Saturday morning.

“I felt like it was a great way to reach people in the community. I love being able to serve and provide meals to the table,” Strahm said. “It’s been very uplifting, it’s been great to see people smiling as they walk away.”

Members at The River donate throughout the year to make the big event happen.

“It’s a big price tag but if somebody gives their life to God, you can’t put a price tag on that,” Trexler said.

“For us this is our gift to the city. We’re saying you’re a big deal to us because you’re a big deal to God,” Trexler said.