More than 100 hundred volunteers served up heaping helpings of hope, fellowship and the traditional Thanksgiving meal Friday during the 14th annual Central Coast Rescue Mission’s holiday community feast.
“The most important thing here is to let these people experience dignity, let them know that they are valuable, let them know that they are loved," said Jon Bronkowski, Central Coast Rescue Mission program manager. "So often, when you are down and out, you feel like no one cares about you.”
The Central Coast Rescue Mission, which provides services to area men and women in need of housing, food and moral support throughout the year, aimed to serve a few hundred people at the Santa Maria Veterans' Memorial Community Center. The banquet was open to anyone who felt they could benefit from a free holiday meal.
Last year, the Rescue Mission held the community meal at the Santa Maria Fairpark but wanted to bring the event to the veterans center because it is closer to its thrift store and 18-bed life recovery home.
“We are in this neighborhood every day. There is not a lot of extra anything," Bronkowski said. "When funds are that tight, parents feel like they are not going to be able to provide for their children, are not the parents they want to be. That just crushes hope.”
Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino was on hand to help spread the holiday spirit.
“We are all very lucky to be living in a city like Santa Maria that is so giving," she said. "People are really willing to step up. It amazes me the people that come out and give.”
The annual celebration is made possible by donations from the community and volunteers, who work to help prepare and serve the feast.
“We have hundreds of individuals that gave to this event financially and we also have more than a hundred people giving of their time. Without people who care, this event doesn’t happen,” Bronkowski said.
Folks from local businesses and organizations, including Santa Barbara Public Health, FedEx, Starbucks, members of Grace Baptist and other churches, were among some of the volunteers who came to help.
They served a portion of 2,500 pounds of turkey provided by the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
“You figure 20 pounds per bird, that is quite a few turkeys,” Bronkowski said.
The Rescue Mission saved some of the turkeys it received for its annual community Christmas dinner next month.
Also on Friday, volunteers helped give out free coats and blankets to those who needed them.
For more information about the Central Coast Rescue Mission or to make a donation, visit ccrescuemission.org.