COVINGTON - Central Community Church in Covington still considers itself a "young" church and wants to get its name out into the community.
Pastor Darrell Allen challenged the 3-year-old church in October to help the needy members of the community.
"This is the perfect season to reach into our community and say, 'This is our gift,'" Allen said.
Since it's beginning, the church has helped local nursing homes and area homeless shelters, but Allen wants to make a bigger difference in the community.
"We're about outreach," said church member Eddie Huckaby. "We're here, and we're here to help the community."
After Allen challenged the church, members began bringing in and collecting coats, toys, hygiene and non-perishable food items that would eventually be given to needy residents.
On Saturday morning, members saw those items put to use.
For the last few months, the church worked with the local Department of Family and Children's Services, the Newton County School System and fellow church members to decide who are the neediest families in Covington.
"This church is heavily involved in youth and outreach; what better way to help than to help families who have youth?" Huckaby said. "If you give, you shall get back."
Selected families were given vouchers to come to the church Saturday morning to get a hot soup meal. About 250 families - or 600 individuals - showed up Saturday.
Allen said about 100 of its 650 church members set up and prepared for Saturday for several weeks by packing boxes and preparing for the big day.
Church members solicited area businesses for donations and later shopped for food items at local discount grocery stores.
"It's a great feeling knowing you can give to community people less fortunate than yourself," Huckaby said.
Members collected about $700 in cash donations from businesses and enough items so that each family had a box containing at least 12 nonperishable food items, hygiene products and "goodies" like candy, Bibles and tracts, as well as a bag of fresh fruit.
Also on Saturday, children under 12 visited a "toy store," and families were able to "shop" for coats and baby items.
"We gave out right at 300 coats," Allen said. "It was an awesome thing and went really good, especially being our first big outreach event."
Local salons also gave free haircuts, Wal-Mart gave vision checks and Newton General Hospital gave free blood pressure readings.
Huckaby said members are "exhausted" after the event and are happy they collected as much as they did but wish they could have done more.
"It's a bad year for charity; people are really strapped," Huckaby said. "Plus, we got a late start, too."
He said this is the first collection of this size for the church and it has been a learning experience.
"We know next year to start collecting in August," he said. "This church is young and on fire and eager to do the right thing. Our goal is to be able to ... help thousands; we don't want to turn anybody away."
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.