Grandmother Catherine Zeze's life has almost continuously included children. It didn't stop after she raised her daughter, who went to jail for manslaughter and left two sons and a daughter behind in her care.
And it doesn't stop at Christmastime when the children, particularly the boys whose father is also in jail, need gifts.
This time of year, Ms. Zeze's $1,000 a month in Social Security is stretched as thin as tissue wrapping paper. There's not many gifts, she said.
"Not too much because both their mother and father are incarcerated," she said. "The church has been helping for about 10 years."
Ms. Zeze sat among more than 1,500 yesterday at the SeaGate Convention Centre and waited for free Christmas gifts sprinkled with religious hope. Both were provided by the Cathedral of Praise, a Sylvania church located at 5225 West Alexis Rd. The program, called the Noel Project, has been refined over the years and works in conjunction with Central City Ministries of Toledo.
"Why don't we always make right choices? Because of a screwed-up mind. ... We sin with choice," Pastor Tony Scott told the crowd after singers on stage led them in Christmas carols.
One grandmother arrived at 3:15 a.m. to be first in line outside the building in the bitter cold. She did not want to be identified by name as someone taking charity, but her place in line assured a bicycle for her grandson and other gifts and food that the Noel Project provides each Christmas season.
The carefully choreographed bicycle and food giveaway used a deli-number system to keep the mayhem of hundreds of children about to receive free bicycles from breaking loose.
Some families arriving hours after a line formed but before the start of the program were turned away - about 150 victims of the cold logistics of too many people for too few gifts.
"This year we let them in early rather than having them stand out in the cold," said Central City Pastor Jesse Marroquin. "We wanted to make sure every family had a toy, about 400-500 families, about 1,500-1,600 people."
Ideally, the families receive a bicycle, other gifts, a food box, and a turkey or a ham. There were 225 bicycles.
For many, like Ms. Zeze, the effects of poor choices by others and by themselves abounded in the convention hall.
Ms. Zeze's daughter, Miriam Whitfield, featured in The Blade in 2001 in a story about a victim awareness program for inmates, is serving 8 to 13 years at the Marysville Reformatory for Women. She fired one deadly bullet into her boyfriend's head.
Her relationship with Lakeith Hood was abusive, she said in 2001. They had been drinking, drugging, and fighting late one October night in 1995 when she picked up his gun and squeezed the trigger.
"I thought the violence in my home was just my business," she told The Blade. "Just because an incident happens in a home doesn't mean it won't have an impact on the community."
Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6077.