- The Washington Times
Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Christian rescue missions across the nation are expected to do something this week that most haven’t been able to do for two years: provide in-person, sit-down Thanksgiving meals for those experiencing homelessness and food insecurity.

Along with meals, food baskets and other necessities, the missions will share messages of faith and the hope to be found in Jesus Christ, executives of various missions said.

“With few exceptions, our missions are going to be pretty much back at full force for Thanksgiving,” said Justin W. Boles, vice president of Citygate Network, a 109-year-old organization of Gospel rescue missions with headquarters in Colorado Springs.

He said the more than 300 member organizations are expected to feed hundreds of thousands of individuals and families.

In 2020 and 2021, the “comings and goings” of residents and guests at rescue missions “were far more controlled” to blunt the spread of COVID-19, Mr. Boles said.

“It was widely understood that if COVID-19 got into homeless shelters in a significant way, it could cripple the hospital system,” he said.

The Central Union Mission in the District of Columbia will deploy 40 to 50 volunteers and more than 20 turkeys to serve a Thanksgiving dinner for hundreds of the city’s homeless, said Joseph J. Mettimano, the mission’s president and chief executive.

“It’s our first full-service meal since COVID,” said Mr. Mettiimano, noting that the mission has a 138-year history of serving those in need.

The Salvation Army, which has 7,000 centers across the country, will serve community meals this week, including some on Thursday, said Dale Bannon, national community relations and development director at the group’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

He said in-person dinners will resume in Dallas and in Quincy, Illinois. In Honolulu, volunteers will serve about 2,000 people on Thanksgiving Day.

Mr. Bannon said the effects of the pandemic and inflation have taken tolls on families, with an estimated 61% of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck.

“There are many families and individuals who are struggling this holiday season, which makes it more important for the Salvation Army to be able to provide not just a community meal, but to give them a food box that will last for a week or two, for example,” he said.

Candace Gregory, president and chief executive of the Open Door Mission in Omaha, Nebraska, said the brunch and evening dinner on Thanksgiving Day will serve clients who stay in the group’s 917 beds and those who visit.

“We decorate and we treat people just super special because, guess what, if they had somewhere else to be, they would be there,” she said.

“It’s actually banquet style,” Ms. Gregory said of the brunch. “We actually take your order. … You would have a volunteer waiter come and ask, ‘What would you like in your omelet today?’”

The Thanksgiving meal, she said, will have traditional fare, although “other times we’ve done an Italian feast too, [and] they love it.”

Not every rescue mission will return to in-person dining. The Rev. Donovan Coley, president and CEO at the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission in Indiana, said his group would hand out full Thanksgiving meals on Wednesday. He anticipated 1,250 visitors who would pick up 5,000 meals.

Mr. Coley said many of the working poor and others in need wouldn’t come to the mission for a mass meal “because it was perceived as that is where those individuals were getting off the streets.” Those who have “fallen through the cracks” consider it safer to pick up a meal and have access to social services at the mission, he said.

Lisa Chastain, CEO of Gospel Rescue Mission in Tucson, Arizona, said her group would offer a “hybrid” format. Clients can either drive through to pick up a meal and other basic items or stay for a sit-down meal.

Behind the sit-down meals and food distribution is a spiritual component. Visitors are offered Bibles or New Testaments and opportunities to have prayer and participate in voluntary Bible study groups.

“We will never stop talking about Jesus because Jesus is the reason for what we do, said Dennis Van Kampen, president and CEO of the 123-year-old Mel Trotter Mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The group will serve a Thanksgiving meal for the public at the DeVos Place arena, he said.

Mr. Van Kampen said the faith component is “the only way that we can do it. And we believe that the people we serve have been made in the image of God, a God that loves them, a God that has plans for them [and] a God that sent Jesus for them. And because of that, they have dignity and value.”

Mr. Mettimano of the District’s Central Union Mission said, “We don’t hide our Jesus” when serving the public, but “we don’t force” participation in religious services. Instead, he said, the mission approaches clients “with the love of Christ.”

The Salvation Army’s Mr. Bannon agreed.

“The first part of our mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ while we’re serving in his name without discrimination,” he said. “And so it’s a privilege to offer hope and our faith when requested.”

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• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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