LAWRENCEVILLE -- One family slept at Coolray Field overnight. Others lined up at 8 a.m.
But by the time church volunteers began at 1 p.m. giving away food to people struggling in the community, the lines crept down local streets and interstates, bringing traffic to a halt in much of northern Gwinnett Saturday.
Coupled with last-minute shoppers at the nearby Mall of Georgia, the 12Stone Church program to feed 6,000 families created a reported hour and a half backup on I-85.
"Apparently, the word spread farther and faster and broader than we expected," said church financial officer Norwood Davis, adding that the church ran out of food at 4 p.m. and had to turn thousands away. "It overwhelmed our expectations."
The response to the goodwill offering overwhelmed a church that typically has no logistical problem with shepherding 12,000 worshippers to and from services each weekend.
Michael Turner, who lives off Rock Springs Road just a mile from the baseball stadium, said traffic jams had never reached that level -- not during Gwinnett Braves home games or on the mall's biggest shopping days.
"It took my wife 50 minutes to go less than three miles," he said. "I was thinking it had to be an accident. ... Black Friday wasn't this bad."
Despite the inconvenience, Turner praised the church for its efforts, which gave families faced with unemployment a week's worth of groceries, a HoneyBaked ham or turkey, four tickets to a G-Braves game and "Christmas is Love" CD. The outreach, worth $1 million in goods and services was funded through corporate partners as well as a special offering collected by the congregation.
A year ago, the church had a similar event distributing groceries to 5,000 families, and some food was left over to be donated to food banks, Davis said.
"It is a sign of the times," he said of the overwhelming need. "You never want to turn people away but we're just excited to offer a small piece of hope to 6,000 families this Christmas."