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Ark Refuge accepting toy, food donations for holidays

After you’ve worked weeks to get ready to feed hungry families at Thanksgiving, what do you do next? You get ready for Christmas. Ark Refuge Ministries is currently taking donations for its Christmas toy drive and Christmas dinner.  

Anyone wanting to donate to local children can bring a brand-new toy for newborns through 13-year-olds. Baby gifts include diapers, and older children also enjoy gift cards.  

For the Christmas meal, Ark works with Feeding the Valley Food Bank. Ark collects more perishable items closer to Christmas. Foods needed include green beans, mashed potatoes, turkey, ham and other Christmas meal related foods.    

“People can bring desserts the week before. That’s a good help for us,” Ark CEO Yvonne Lopez said.  

Anyone who would like to volunteer to help with the meals, be at the Ark around 8:30 to 9 a.m. to get food boxes ready for delivery.  

Anyone who needs a meal can stop by Ark between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Christmas Day. The group also delivers to senior care facilities like small personal care homes. Anyone who would like meals delivered, contact Ark with the number of meals needed.  

Ark feeds more than 500 people on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. On weekdays, the group distributes another 1,000 meals per year.  

Ark’s holiday traditions were started by its founder, the Rev. Carlos Lopez, about 30 years ago.

“We want to continue his legacy,” Ark Chief Development Officer Lanona Jones said. 

Since Lopez passed away in 2015, his wife the Rev. Yvonne Lopez has led the toy and food drives, with the help of Ark’s residents and some outside support.  

“It’s been hard,” she said. “I ask God sometimes, ‘Are you sure you called me?’ But my husband was sick for a long time, and God showed how to run the ministry then.”

Through the rest of the year, Ark is a residential program for men needing support with issues like homelessness and substance abuse. Lopez said it is not as easy to raise the support needed to help men.  

“Most people are willing to help women and kids, but they think men should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But they don’t have any boots,“ she said.   

Ark residents are a big part of the holiday events. At both the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, the men help cook and deliver the meals.

“We do everything here,” Lopez said. “We have a gift-wrapping party on Christmas Eve where we play carols, and everybody wears Santa hats.”

Then on Christmas Day after serving the meal, the men load a trailer with gifts and drive to Tall Pines Apartments to help Santa give them out.  

“It teaches guys to give back, to have a servant heart. It’s a blessing to see them,” Lopez said.  “When men are transformed, it affects not just his family but the community.” 

Ark accepts donations for the men at Christmas too. Particularly clothes like sweatshirts, t-shirts and socks.   

Since early 2000, Ark Refuge has served Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to the community. Including the holiday dinners and meals provided throughout the year, the group serves around 2,000 meals per year. 

Ark also accepts cash donations, Lopez said. Any money given will be spent on new toys and food for the Christmas dinner. 

Donations can be brought to Ark Refuge Ministries at 504 E. Depot Street in LaGrange. The ministry is now accepting new toys and canned foods. Closer to Christmas Eve, Ark will accept prepared foods and desserts for the Christmas Day meal. Gifts can also be brought to the male residents of Ark.

The donation deadline is Christmas Eve. 

For more details, contact Lee Jones, community engagement strategist at (706) 845-0335 (office), (404) 635-8446 (cell) or by email at ces.arkrefuge@gmail.com.