Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rescue Mission revives Easter Feast


A hearty meal of ham, green beans, potatoes, biscuits and pie awaited hundreds of local homeless folks on Thursday as they dropped by the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission for its new Easter Feast.
Although the organization, now in its 43rd year of operation, held Easter meals in the past, the event had lapsed for several years before organizers decided to bring it back to life.

“Our mission and our goal is long-term recovery,” said Rolf Geyling, president of the Rescue Mission. “In order to do that, you need onramps. You need to open your doors and be welcoming.”
As dozens of guests filed in and accepted heaping plates of chow from volunteers, pastel balloons floated along the ceiling and a table overflowed with Easter baskets and gifts for children.
By the time the last bite had been swallowed, organizers estimated between 300 and 400 people had stopped by.
Bringing in hundreds of men and women struggling with poverty, homelessness and addiction for a warm meal is less about trying to recruit them to the residential treatment program offered by the Rescue Mission, Geyling said, and more about simply giving them support.
“This is just about blessing people,” he said. “…They need to believe in you and believe in themselves.”
Senior program director John Gabbert echoed those sentiments as he stood near the entrance of the dining hall and greeted guests with a “Happy Easter.” Recovery is intricately tied to developing relationships, he said, to showing those in need that “someone out there cares.”
“I think you’re going to see more and more of this,” Gabbert said of the Easter meal. “When you’re homeless, this kind of thing is such a blessing.”
Patrick Pastoret, the mission’s food service director, knows the value of a free meal. He had been homeless for five years when he came to a holiday feast at the mission. After sitting down to eat, he started chatting with a member of the staff about the mission’s services and eventually found himself in the yearlong treatment program.
Even now, with a year of sobriety and employment under his belt, he recognized many of those sitting down to a plateful of food at Thursday's event.
“I used to drink and do drugs with these guys,” he said. “…I know what it was like. I was dying out there.”
He said while he doesn’t press any of his buddies too hard to join the recovery program, he tries to use his position at the mission to show there is hope.
“I try to let my actions do my talking,” Pastoret said. “The best influence I had was visually seeing someone change. I wasn’t into someone telling me that my life would change and be better.”
And though Geyling said residential treatment would remain as the flagship program at the Rescue Mission, he plans to stay true to the organization’s legacy of feeding the homeless.
“People who we’ve seen transformed by our programs started by coming to these meals,” he said. “…I’d love to see us do this more around the holidays.”

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