The Santa Barbara Rescue Mission served about 300 meals on Wednesday afternoon at its annual Thanksgiving Feast, where people in need or who are experiencing homelessness got to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal and spend time with other community members.
Volunteers seated and served guests restaurant style, with several food options, including turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie and more.
“A big part of the Rescue Mission tradition is serving people here for the holidays,” said Rolf Geyling, Rescue Mission president. “Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we plan to serve 10,000 meals.”
Geyling added that everything the Rescue Mission does is thanks to support and donations from the community, especially as it receives no government funding and is funded through private donations.
“A lot of times people get two turkeys and bring one to us,” Geyling said. “We’re grateful to the community and … the community caring for people who otherwise wouldn’t have somewhere to go.”
A big part of what makes the holiday feasts special is that the Rescue Mission invites people for meals and to hang out, even after they finish eating, and they encourage visitors to take to-go boxes of food with them.
Geyling also said that all of the food is prepared by men in the Rescue Mission’s recovery program, with 35 to 40 men in charge of the kitchen.
“There’s a good feeling in the place,” said Mark Zimmer, a volunteer who was formerly part of the Rescue Mission program. “It’s very supportive. … There’s a pastor who always had a saying — to find a way where there seems to be no way — that’s the theme of this whole place.”
Since being in the program, Zimmer said his case manager helped him find housing and he has been volunteering with the Rescue Mission since 2017.
“The leadership is really important,” Zimmer said . “What makes [Geyling] a great leader is that he fuses his spirit and his love through the entire organization.”
Joanna Sanchez, who is a guest of the program, said she first came to the Rescue Mission in need of emergency services, and the organization helped place her at a job and allowed her to finish community service hours at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
She said she was later asked to become a volunteer with more responsibilities at the shelter, such as cleaning, which has given her a sense of pride and ownership.
Homeless Guest Services Director Kevin Carroll said the holiday feasts, in addition to the breakfasts and dinners that are served each day, gives the Rescue Mission a chance to feed people who don’t stay at the shelter. He added that they also try to help normalize people’s lives.
“Most people don’t understand the plight. Not all homeless people are drug addicts,” Carroll said. “It’s all about dignifying the space. … We need to work on not dehumanizing.”
Carroll said that in past years, women at the shelter had a gingerbread house-making contest, where, last year, 20 houses were made and put on tables for the Christmas feast.
More information on the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, future events, and how to help or support the program can be found on its website here.