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The Central Coast Rescue Mission served hundreds of diners Tuesday during its Community Christmas Banquet, geared to give the neediest Santa Marians a traditional holiday meal. 

The annual dinner, which was held at the Veterans' Memorial Community Center, was dished up by Central Coast Rescue Mission staff and more than 100 volunteers from local businesses and churches, including FedEx, Starbucks, Foursquare Church and Grace Baptist Church, among others. “Truly, without the community, we can’t do what we do,” said Jon Bronkowski, director of the Rescue Mission. “The support we get really helps us the other 364 days that we do what we do.”

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Volunteers from the Central Coast Rescue Mission serve community members during the annual Christmas Community Banquet on Tuesday at the Veterans' Memorial Community Center. 

The organization, which provides services to men and women on the Central Coast who are in poverty or struggle with addiction, hosts the meal each year with help from the community. In addition to serving food, volunteers handed out blankets to those in need and the organization gave away more than 400 toys to children.

On Tuesday, the Rescue Mission was expecting to serve over 500 people, Bronkowski said. “Sometimes, I take a traditional holiday meal for granted because we go to the store, purchase it and serve it to my family,” he said. “But for a lot of the individuals here, they don’t get a traditional meal and this year, we thought a lot about that as a staff. We really want to make sure that people have the opportunity to experience Christmas. And it’s not that a meal makes Christmas, but knowing that people love you enough to take time out of their day to serve you — that’s what Christmas is all about.

“Whenever you have Christ in a message, hearts are going to be opened,” he said. “Whether you know him or not, God is who he is. So what ends up happening is you see these hearts of people just open up this time of the year and they want to help the individuals that are less fortunate than they are.”

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A boy chooses a stuffed monkey as his gift Tuesday during the Central Coast Rescue Mission's annual Christmas Community Banquet at the Veterans' Memorial Community Center. 

Tanglewood resident Jesus Renteria was one of the hundreds of community members who attended Tuesday’s banquet. “My wife has been here before but this is the first time I’ve been here,” Renteria said. “It’s good to see the Rescue Mission helping needy people. A lot of people need some help and [the Rescue Mission] does a lot.”

Bronkowski said the event helped bring together Santa Marians from all walks of life. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or you're poor at this event — you’re going to receive something,” he said. “For those serving, they have the opportunity to share love and to share hope with those who are being served. For those that are being served, that love leads to hope. And that hope ends up leading to restoration.”

Central Coast Rescue Mission serves up hope at annual Thanksgiving banquet

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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