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Church's Angel Project Helps 342 People

They came bearing gifts.

Representatives from 110 needy families living in the Richmond Highway corridor area crowded into Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church Sunday night to hear the story of Christmas, sing Christmas carols and receive gifts for both children and adults of those families.

It was the eighth year for the church's "Angel Gift Project" which provided 684 gifts for 342 people. "Each person gets two gifts, adults and children because they are all either members of the church, volunteers or our constituents, who are people who come for church activities or get food and clothing from us throughout the year," said Laura M. Derby, programs and office administrator.

"When we started this program we gave out just 50 gifts that year. This is the greatest gift, to share God's blessing with people of the community at this time of year," said the Rev. Keary Kincannon, pastor of the mission church at 8605 Office Park in Mount Vernon District.

"We also will distribute 200-plus Christmas food baskets with turkeys and hams on Dec. 22 and serve a full Christmas turkey and ham dinner with all the fixings on Christmas day from noon to 2:30 p.m. It is open to anyone who walks in off the street, as well as our regulars," Kincannon said.

GIFTS WERE distributed to families that had put in previous requests for specific items, according to Cynthia Davis, Rising Hope's coordinator of community activities. "We give them out alphabetically according to family name," she said.

While the gifts were being distributed, the sanctuary was filled with the voices of recipients singing Christmas carols under the direction of Don and Ellen Carson and Sandra Warren from Sydenstricker United Methodist Church of Fairfax County. They also explained the history and message of each carol before it was sung.

For example, they explained, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" was written by 19th century preacher Phillips Brooks as he visited Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. "Silent Night" was introduced in Austria, again on Christmas Eve, in 1817 by Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber. And "The First Noel" and "Joy to the World" are two of the oldest Christmas carols at more than 300 years each.

"This year we have been aided in acquiring our gifts from 12 other churches in the area, 11 United Methodists and St. Aidens Episcopal, plus the Mount Vernon Rotary Club, Minute Man Press, and Romona Johnson," Kincannon said. "Plus, Saint Luke's Episcopal Church provided the meal for our constituents tonight."

Rising Hope is seeking volunteers to help with Christmas Day dinner from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Those interested, call Cynthia Davis at 703-360-1976 or email Laura Derby at lderby@risinghopeumc.org.