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Aiming to instill hope in the community and ring in the holiday season, around 100 volunteers gathered Thursday to serve a feast to hundreds of diners during the Central Coast Rescue Mission’s annual Thanksgiving Community Banquet.

The annual dinner — which was held at the Veterans Memorial Hall — was served by Central Coast Rescue Mission staff and volunteers from local businesses and organizations, including FedEx, Starbucks, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and many local churches. In addition to serving the holiday meal, volunteers handed out blankets and sleeping bags to those in need.

The Rescue Mission — which provides services to area men and women that are in poverty or struggle with addiction — organizes the meal each year with help from the community.

“We had 2,800 pounds of turkeys donated by the Foodbank,” said Jon Bronkowski, director of the Central Coast Rescue Mission. “A lot of our food comes through the Foodbank, which shows the community support we have for this event. The Rescue Mission hosts the event, but if it wasn’t for organizations like the food bank, the companies that give to the food bank and local farmers — without that type of community activity, we’d never be able to put on this kind of event.”

The goal of the event is to show each person that arrives that they are valued and have dignity, Bronkowski said. “The Rescue Mission exists to provide a place of refuge that leads to recovery and ultimately, restoration,” he said. “An addict’s life is much different than someone who might be here today that’s just looking for a meal because, in their world, the refuge isn’t necessarily the food but the hope that they might get from someone caring.”

On Thursday, the Rescue Mission aimed to serve around 800 people, Bronkowski said.

Vincent Galindo, who was at Thursday’s holiday banquet, said he was grateful to the Central Coast Rescue Mission and its volunteers. “All I can say is they are amazing,” he said. “It’s not the first time they’ve fed me. I’ve been homeless for about a year, and about a couple months ago, I was hungry and they fed me at Foursquare Church. If everyone was like them, it’d be a beautiful town to live in, you know?”

On Thursday, Galindo ate his meal outside and handfed pieces of turkey to Tiger, his 12-year-old pit bull terrier. “This is my service dog — he’s a good boy,” he said.

Deborah Paduganan, of Grace Baptist Church, said she had been volunteering to serve diners at the Rescue Mission’s holiday dinner for the past six years. “It gives us an opportunity to feed people that may not have Thanksgiving dinners,” she said. “It’s really a blessing to be able to help (those) who may have just fallen on hard times.”

Bronkowski said the event was emblematic of community cooperation. “What puts this on is the private donors,” he said. “It costs $2.17 for each meal. We let the community know that’s the case and people give to make it possible.”

The event was held earlier in November this year compared to past events due to scheduling conflicts with the memorial hall, but Bronkowski said there was a silver lining to the early dinner. “One of the pluses to being a couple weeks early is it’s giving us the opportunity to prepare hearts for the holidays,” Bronkowski said. “So often as we get closer to Thanksgiving we get so wrapped up in other plans that we forget what the holidays are all about. It really helps us remember it’s all about the people.”

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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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