Volunteers from Columbus, Ohio, Local 683 join other union members each December to prepare and distribute bags of food for families in need.

With the holiday rush in full swing by mid-December, it can be tough for most people to carve out even a little free time for themselves, let alone to help others in need.

Union volunteers sort and pack canned food, fresh produce and other food donations to feed an estimated 3,000 Columbus-area families during the holiday season.

"We're swamped with work," said Patrick Hook, business manager of Columbus, Ohio, Local 683. "We're really blessed."

Even so, dozens of apprentices, journeymen and retirees from the local have donated time and effort over the last several years in support of the Christmas Cares — Unions Share program.

"It's just a great way for our members to get involved with the community," Hook said.

Now in its 70th year, Christmas Cares — Unions Share has evolved from a modest Christmas basket program serving a relatively small portion of Franklin County.

Working with the Central Ohio Labor Council, the St. Stephen's Community House, the Mid-Ohio Food Collective and the United Way of Central Ohio, the Local 683 members now join nearly 1,000 other volunteers to prepare and distribute what's hoped will be enough food to help an estimated 3,000 feed their families through the winter holiday season.

"We have a good time doing it," Hook said. "IBEW members know how to find a way to make it fun."

Over a week, the volunteers assemble at St. Stephen's to sort and prepare bags of purchased and donated canned food and fresh produce. Then, on the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas, they distribute the bags to the families that drive through the facility's parking lot.

Anywhere from 50 to 75 Local 683 members will typically help, Hook said, many bringing family members and friends to join in.

"This is always a great opportunity for our apprentices to put in community service hours and for our members to volunteer as well," he said.

Learn more at saintstephensch.org