Thousands showed up at Bell Central on Saturday for the Praise Ministries Christmas event, where free gifts and food were given away to community residents.
School officials estimated more than 3,000 people attended the event. Reminiscent of Black Friday, some people began lining up at the school around midnight.
Bell Central and Bell High School parking lots were full by 10 a.m.
“This is just phenomenal,” said Kevin Johnson, a member of Praise Ministries International.
Fifty people were allowed in the gym at a time for 15 minutes to shop for items.
There were multiple items on hand for people to choose from including clothes, shoes, movies, games, toys, household items and much more.
Several lucky individuals received bikes as a result of a blind ticket drawing.
Praise Ministries International also gave away food boxes at the event, which included potatoes and turkeys. All the items given away were donated by churches around the nation.
Food and snacks were available during the event for those waiting in long lines.
Entertainment provided included a performance from Stella Parton, younger sister of Dolly Parton.
“(The event this year) is just a great event for Bell County,” said Larry Woodson, founder of Praise Ministries International. “We are just excited to be here and glad to do it. It’s all about the children.”
Larry and Linda Woodson began their ministry in 1995. Larry Woodson said God spoke to them and told them to do something in the “home garden.” which the couple believed to be within the United States.
In the beginning, the Woodson’s handed out used gifts from the trunk of their car. Their mission has grown into Praise Ministries International. The organization now has hundreds of volunteers.
Larry Woodson stated each year during the second weekend of December the ministry comes to the Appalachian Mountains to give to those who need it. Last year, the ministry held the event in Knox County.
Anthony Cloud is a staff writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 606-248-1010, ext.208.