BY JESSICA MARTINEZ, CP REPORTER
Charitable organizations throughout the country have gathered resources, volunteers and food to feed thousands of families in need this holiday season while offering them a moment of celebration amid their less fortunate situations.
In Los Angeles, Union Rescue Mission (URM) started its Thanksgiving outreach event early as part of its effort to feed over 180,000 people between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Last weekend, URM fed over 3,000 individuals suffering from financial disparity from Skid Row, Los Angeles' most notorious neighborhood known for its high rate of homelessness.
"It seems to be the very same as during the years of the great recession," said Kitty Davis-Walker, spokesperson for URM, to The Christian Post. "It appears that these tough times are still hitting low-income folks the hardest."
A few weeks ago, URM held a massive Thanksgiving outreach effort that included volunteers washing the feet of the homeless and giving them new socks and shoes. UCLA podiatrists were also on hand to talk about their overall foot health while individuals in Skid Row were also given legal advice and enjoyed entertainment.
Currently, URM plans to have another Thanksgiving dinner for its program that aids men recovering from addictions in addition to a third dinner event on Thanksgiving day for over 800 people who reside at URM. As of now, the organization has funds to feed 60,000 individuals during this holiday season, but it is hoping to raise more money to reach double that number of people.
Similarly, The Bowery Mission in New York, which has served the homeless and hungry since 1894, will host its 134th Thanksgiving dinner by feeding 7,000 people from all five boroughs of New York City. For weeks now, the organization has gathered food and gifts for the annual event, when in addition to a turkey dinner, guests will receive a new coat and a "blessing bag" of winter clothes and hygiene items.
"Rather than determining a person's eligibility for services, investigating their immigration or housing status, assigning them a number or taking fingerprints, we simply seek to meet their specific need, no questions asked. We do this based on our conviction that each person is God's creation and has infinite worth to God," said James Winans, chief development officer at The Bowery Mission.
Winans says the organization primarily serves adults, however, it is seeing more families reach out for help. Homelessness has increase due to cuts in housing subsidies and food stamps, he noted. He also says The Bowery Mission outreach events offer more than a hot meal to the needy, they are also an invitation to a deeper life change.
"Some guests will decide to join our residential programs, which last year served nearly 400 men and women who are regaining sobriety, reconnecting with family and faith, pursuing educational goals, and preparing for work and independent living," said Winans.
Both The Bowery Mission's and URM's Thanksgiving events are made possible by either private contributions or through partnerships with other companies and organizations.
In other cities throughout the country, additional charity organizations will take part in feeding the less fortunate throughout the week leading to Thanksgiving Day. The Nashville Rescue Mission's annual "Mission Possible" turkey fry will be hosted by country music star Tracy Lawrence along with other celebrities in attendance where they will fry more than 500 turkeys for the city's homeless. In addition, Indianapolis will host 18,000 people for its annual "Wheeler Mission Drumstick Dash" that will include a run or walk event with proceeds benefitting homeless shelters in the area.
"These are just four examples of the amazing things that will be happening at rescue missions in big and small cities from coast to coast," said John Ashmen, president of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, in a statement. "And the participation of community members, extending radical hospitality, is a testament to the spirit of generosity from people who want to be the hands and feet of Jesus."
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), over 600,000 people were homeless in January 2013, and 65 percent of them were living in emergency shelters, while 35 percent were living in the streets. Nearly 140,000 were underage children, though experts predict statistic numbers could be much higher.