Wednesday marked the third year in a row that Rob Huffman of Johns Island and his family have volunteered at the Birthday for Jesus.

"This is a family tradition," he said standing in the wind-whipped bleachers at Johnson Hagood Stadium. "It's more about what Christmas is about."

Charon Gadsden of Moncks Corner, meanwhile, volunteered in memory of her mother who passed away in June.

"I can't spend time with her so I needed to give to someone else," she said while taking a break from filling cups of orange juice. "This is good. I'm getting blessed out of this."

Hundreds of Lowcountry residents - both volunteers and those in need - took part in Wednesday's third annual giving event. Bicycles, clothes, shoes and more than 17,500 pounds of groceries were handed out in a couple of hours.

Meals included plates filled with the makings from 125 turkeys, plus pounds and pounds of rice and greens. Most of the items were donated by a variety of groups, schools and businesses.

One of the organizers, Gordon Cashwell, director of Without Walls Ministry, good-naturedly warmed up the hundreds of volunteers about what to expect.

"Whatever we do today it's going to be spiritual," he told them. "Whether it's handing out shoes or a hot dog."

The giveaway, organized by a collection of area churches and community groups, was set up with precision. Shoes (including 2,500 pairs of new sneakers) and clothing were available in one part of the stadium, while food was assembled not too far away.

The event was confined to the stadium. Participants were not allowed on The Citadel's playing field, to keep the grass from getting trampled ahead of next month's Medal of Honor Bowl.

There was also a manger scene and Biblical re-enactors moving about dressed in Bethlehem garb. Haircuts were available for those who needed them.

Those who stood in line in hopes of getting toys and shoes for their children said the offerings would fill a void at a tough time of the year.

"Clothes for my kids - this helps," said Jennifer Abracinskas of North Charleston, who has three children.

"I came to collect and I ended up giving," Debra Hilton, also of North Charleston, said of the shared spiritual nature of the event as she stood in the line to get into the stadium.

Last year about 2,000 people showed up. Cashwell didn't have an accurate count of this year but believed it was larger in terms of volunteers and those needing services.

He called the event a successful merging of church and community. "There's a lot of generosity in America," he said, "and there's a lot of need."

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551