Today, people in need of Christmas spirit and a hot holiday meal are lined up for the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s annual yuletide feast. Steaming hot food of the holiday variety-such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and, of course, turkey-is being heaped up for many of Santa Barbara’s homeless men, women, and children. Helping are the Mission staff and more than 60 volunteers. The dining hall is filling with people, and the air is resonating with conversations and good holiday cheer.
“We are usually overloaded with volunteers,” said Rolf Geyling, Rescue Mission president. “People just want to help the homeless for the holidays.” A volunteer and former Rescue Mission regular explained why he was helping out: “I learned how to deal with life,” Dunlop said. “They taught me how to live my life.”
This year the Rescue Mission dining room may look a little different than it did in years past. Instead of cafeteria-style seating and buffet service, the staff has set tables with ribbon-wrapped plastic ware and baskets of rolls, and the buffet is nixed in favor of table service. The servers are even asking diners whether they would like white meat or dark.
“If you’re homeless you want a sense of belonging and not to feel like a social outcast,” said Rebecca Wilson, director of communications and constituent relations.
Another change is that the chapel has been darkened and turned into a movie theater playing holiday movies for people waiting for a table. And outside is the gift drive, where people are able to pick up items that they are lacking: such things as shirts, toothpaste, cosmetics, and even pink-striped Ugg boots.
“It’s up to them to determine what their needs are,” said Wilson of the gift drive.
The Mission provides services designed to help people get their lives back on a successful track. With its substance-abuse treatment programs and facilities, homeless food services and overnight programs, the Rescue Mission can be a light in a very dark night. The food and overnight programs are available 365 days a year. The shelter also offers church services, available to those who want it on a voluntary basis. It is Christian-based but does not discriminate based on religion, race, or sexual orientation.
Started in a small space on State Street in 1965, the Rescue Mission has been doling out services ever since, and in 1986 the current location on Yanonali Street was dedicated. The men’s recovery and Bethel House women’s recovery centers are the only state-certified residential treatment centers on the Central Coast.
When this time of year comes around, it’s nice to know that people are giving what they can. With the shine of smiles and Christmas lights, the Rescue Mission is still bringing joy to people in definite need of it.