These four Merrimack Valley residents were honored last night at Lazarus House's "Share Our Bounty" annual fundraising dinner and auction at Wyndham Andover hotel. More than 200 people packed the Grand Ballroom at the River Road hotel to raise money for Lazarus House, a 42-bed, seven-crib shelter that also provides food, medical and dental services, job training, and more to local residents in need.
And what a need there is. A year ago at this time, about 115 families waited in line for food at the Park Street shelter. Yesterday, 248 families lined up, said Bridget Shaheen, Lazarus House Ministries executive director.
Last night's event was an opportunity for Lazarus House supporters, staff and volunteers to gather and socialize.
"We acknowledge and honor the individuals who have given so much to Lazarus House," spokeswoman Lana Schofield said.
Ahern, Hughes and Santiago were honored last night with Christ the Servant awards.
Santiago, stricken with polio at age 13, uses a wheelchair. But that doesn't stop the Lawrence man, now 38, from keeping Lazarus House tidy. He regularly sweeps the street, cleans the parking lot and chips away at ice on nearby sidewalks.
"I like keeping everything clean," a smiling Santiago said last night. "And I like to be nice to people."
Ahern and Hughes, friends for the past 40 years, are the masterminds behind Lazarus House's successful golf tournaments at Andover Country Club. Last year's tournament netted $200,000, money that was used to help fund Lazarus House projects for a portion of last summer. Both Andover residents also were lauded for their help during the Mother's Day flood of 2006.
Ahern and Hughes are 15-year business partners at Jeffco Inc. in Andover. Ahern urged others to get involved with Lazarus House.
"Get involved in a little way, and it just starts from there," Ahern said.
Claire "Gram" Hajjar, 81, earned the In His Footsteps award last night. Hajjar, formerly of Methuen and now of Lawrence, has done it all at Lazarus House, whether it be cooking, cleaning, helping with flea markets or raising money. She earned her "Gram" nickname because she's adopted so many or they've adopted her as a grandmother.
A retired shoe factory worker, Hajjar first learned to use a computer in her 70s when she first went to work at Lazarus House. And despite suffering a major stroke three years ago, she still works tirelessly.
Honored to accept last night's award, Hajjar said it's been a privilege to help so many people.
"It gives you great satisfaction and fills you with happiness," she said.
Auctioneers at last night's event were North Andover's Bill Burt, Eagle-Tribune executive sports editor; Dan Roche of North Andover, sports anchor and reporter for CBS4; and Amalia Barreda, general assignment reporter for Channel 5.
Next month, Lazarus House also is planning to unveil Capernaum Place, a transitional housing project.