Sitting in front of the Rescue Mission, in charge of counting the number of attendees at the organization’s annual Easter Feast on Thursday, Carol Wojciechowski smiled.
“I’m getting married in May,” she said. “But he doesn’t know it yet!” When that day comes, the Rescue Mission resident said, she’s moving on, heading north with her husband-to-be. She said that she’s “not yet” a success story, but she’s getting there.
So too say many of Wojciechowski’s fellow residents, as well as the other homeless people who attended the feast. As they waited for their holiday lunch of ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, and pumpkin pie, many of Santa Barbara’s homeless were in high spirits, grateful for good food and good company.
“On the one hand, it’s just a meal,” said Rolf Geyling, president of the Rescue Mission. “But they’re going to be in contact with our staff, residents, and volunteers. That is part of what we do to communicate hope and build relationships with people.”
For the past 18 months, Barbara Quijada has been one of those people. She and her golden retriever-Russian wolfhound dog, Tootie Sue, have come to call the Rescue Mission home. “This program works for those who want to rebuild their lives,” she said.
Sometimes, said Rebecca Wilson, the Rescue Mission’s communications director, one Easter Feast can serve as a stepping stone. “It’s a place where they can let down their walls,” she said. “They’re among their friends. We hope that people will find a way out of homelessness through coming into the program. It just begins with a meal.”
Donated at the cost of only $1.50 per guest, the food for Thursday’s meal was prepared by residents and served restaurant-style by about 40 volunteers. In addition to Easter Feast — and similar holiday meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Fourth of July — the Rescue Mission provides free dinners to the homeless every night of the year.
The purpose of Easter Feast for all of the attendees, said five-month resident Willie Waugh, is to “show them a little love.” It’s a good place, he said, for people who “don’t have a place to go.”
Christine K., a self-described “almost-20-year-old,” doesn’t live at the Rescue Mission, but she was excited to be there for Easter Feast. “I came to hang with my homies,” she said. “My stomach’s empty. I’m hungry.”
Hanging out with Christine and some other friends, 31-year-old Jeremy Beaumont couldn’t wait for the food and the future. “I’m looking forward to getting back on my feet — a new beginning.”