Members of the Rescue Mission's Residential Recovery Program serve Thanksgiving meals to volunteers and guests.

The day before Thanksgiving, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission served more than 300 people a traditional turkey dinner, opening their doors to those in need as they have for more than 45 years.

“We’re always blown away by the number of people who find themselves in need, and the number of people who want to come and volunteer and donate,” said the mission;s president Rolf Geyling, who said his organization has consistently served the meal through good times and bad.

SBRM President Rolf Geyling addresses the crowded dining room.

The SBRM provides a variety of services from two locations downtown, offering overnight beds for 90 men and 24 women and children, as well as a 12-month Residential Recovery Program, which helps take people off the streets and remake their lives, providing GED and computer training and other skills useful for finding jobs. It runs on a budget of just over $2.5 million a year. They employ 23 full or part time employees, 11 of whom are former recovery program graduates, as well as a 90-person volunteer force.

This year in particular, Geyling said the Rescue Mission has had to step up for the community, as he estimated that the need for the Mission’s emergency services have risen by 14 percent.

Two young volunteers squeeze whipped cream on one of the dessert courses.

On Wednesday, though, there was no shortage of food, help, or good spirit at the Rescue mission: The crew of 50 or so volunteers, ranging in age from around 7 to 70, served and seated long lines of the homeless and needy between noon and 2 p.m. Most of the cooking, however, was done by the Rescue Mission’s residential recovery program members, who cooked and served an endless procession of over 100 donated turkeys alongside stuffing, potatoes, pie, and more.

Geyling stood by the back door, greeting diners by name and wishing them a happy Thanksgiving. “It’s really important to let people know that they’re special, and they’re loved,” he said.

Volunteer Laurie Hidalgo, whose sister participated in SBRM’s recovery program in the past, said she was grateful for the opportunity to give back to a program that helps. “It’s a wonderful thing, I love that we get to serve,” she said, saying that it was important for everyone to feel “happy, content and full, feeling like people,” on Thanksgiving. Hidalgo said this year was the first time she had volunteered without her sister, who passed away earlier in the year.

Jill Wallerstedt, the homeless guest service supervisor, said the meal’s format was important to the event: Guests were seated in large groups around round tables, chatting with each other and with the many volunteers rotating in and out between serving, cooking and eating a meal themselves. Wallerstedt said the SBRM also serves large community dinners on Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July.


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