About 50 volunteers served Christmas dinner on Friday to more than 300 hungry people at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.
Rather than serving the meals in a buffet line, volunteers waited on each person, providing a personal touch. The Rescue Mission, 535 Yanonali St., also set up tables in the parking lot with a variety of gifts.
Santa Barbara Rescue Mission resident Kristian Anfuso helped prepare the turkey dinner. Three months ago, Anfuso was living on Isla Vista streets.
“When I came here I wasn’t feeling too motivated, but in three months I noticed a big difference in how I feel every day,” he told Noozhawk. “I’m doing something that makes me feel happy.”
Six years ago, Anfuso got into a crippling car accident and couldn’t walk for a year. He said the pain prevented him from returning to his construction job, and he suffered from depression.
“It was real depressing,” he said. “It cost me my marriage. Over a two-year period we drifted apart. That’s another reason I started drinking a lot.”
After three months in the Rescue Mission’s yearlong addiction program, Anfuso said he identified the reasons that caused his addiction and how to constructively address them.
“For a lot of people here, including myself, we would’ve ended up dead sooner rather than later,” Anfuso said. “(The Rescue Mission) makes a big difference in how you feel in short period of time.”
The Rescue Mission, which provides year-round shelter and an addiction treatment program, has given out 20 percent more meals since the beginning of the economic recession, according to Rescue Mission president Rolf Geyling.
“When you are in difficult circumstances, the holidays have a specific irony to them,” Geyling said. “You are isolated from your family, so the misfortune you are dealing with every day is heightened.
“This has been part of our tradition since 1965. Since we’re a faith-based organization, Christmas has a big significance for us. The holidays are about sharing love, so what we try to do is embrace people and offer hope and encouragement.”
Many of the Rescue Mission’s guests have been affected by the economy, and things such as Christmas dinner and gifts are harder to come by, Geyling said.
“My hope is they will realize this is a place where people care about them and they might attempt recovery,” he said. “Eighty percent of what we do is drug and alcohol recovery, and you have to establish a foundation of trust first.”
Ricky Stratton, who is living in his truck, said that without any family nearby, he embraced the Rescue Mission’s heartfelt welcome.
“They are very generous here, and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude,” Stratton said.
Although Geyling acknowledged that some people believe that offering services to the homeless will attract more of them, he said cities without services still have homeless problems.
“God help us as a society if we lose our compassion,” Geyling said. “On the other hand, we believe in personal responsibility — you rob someone of their dignity by creating dependence. That’s what we deal with every day, extending compassion without creating dependence. Hopefully what we’re doing is restoring their self-confidence.”