In early October, shortly after Bluffton and Hilton Head families returned to their homes after Hurricane Matthew, Kenneth Frazier mobilized members of his church – First Zion Missionary Baptist in Bluffton – to host a meal to thank the first responders who had remained in the community and to feed those who were still without the ability to make their own hot meals.

Three days before Christmas, the church at 10 Robertson St. once more opened its heart to provide holiday food distribution to the community.

Anthony Ghoston, the food pantry director, and his wife April organized the event with church volunteers to hand out bags of fresh produce and frozen chicken quarters to more than 270 families. “We were prepared for at least 250 families and when those bags of food were gone we boxed up another 20 or so,” said Anthony Ghoston.

The patio in front of the church doors was crowded with bags and boxes and there were plenty of helping hands.

“We’re not just here as a food pantry to feed their bellies but also as a church to feed their souls,” said April Ghoston. “We enter to worship and when we leave the church, we go out to serve in the community. We all come together as a family to do what God has asked us to do.”

Even before the start of distribution time, cars drove up to the tables laden with bags and boxes of cabbages, squash, greens and other items.

As they drove off, families with young children were walking across the front yard. “We tell them when they leave to go and tell others to come,” April Ghoston said. About half of the food went to first-time visitors to the church’s food pantry, she said.

“What do we get out of doing this? The spirit of Christmas, the spirit of fellowship, the spirit of giving back,” said church member Laura Bush. “We’re a missionary Baptist church, we work outside of the walls. It’s part of our mission work to serve the community.”

The food pantry is open from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays and from noon to 3 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.