An Easter for Those in Need
A crowd gradually collected and eventually wrapped all the way around 5th and San Pedro St. in Downtown Los Angeles this past Easter Sunday. These people were not in line anticipating juicy bargains at their favorite department store but rather were waiting for hot meals served by volunteers working with the Midnight Mission.
Over 2,000 homeless and near-homeless men, women and children enjoyed a delicious holiday meal at the annual Easter Street Fair and Brunch. Pink paper and rosemary covered the tables that are often used for meals within the Mission's buildings.
Volunteers came by with hot plates of chicken, yams, biscuits and pies placing them before waiting men, women and children. According to Mai Lee, the Mission's Community Relations Manager, this year a total of 300 volunteers helped with the event, which is double the amount from last year.
The Midnight Mission is a human service organization that provides services to the people of downtown L.A.'s Skid Row, home to one of the largest concentrations of homeless in the U.S.
The organization works with the homeless and those in need through operating a drug and alcohol recovery program, counseling, job training and placement along with the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing. Not only does the Mission give immediate help to those in need, they help residents master skills and find employment, often within the Mission.
Reginald Left of the Public Affairs Department is one example. He has been a resident at the Mission for over a year and now works for the program guiding tours of their facilities for potential volunteers and speakers.
Left is a recovering alcoholic and sought help for his addiction through the organization's Alcohol recovery program. "They gave me the basic necessities of food, clothes and shelter. They had a bed available immediately. I didn't have insurance but the Mission accepts people in spite of their financial situations," Left said.
Like many of the residents of the Mission's program, Left enjoys helping out at events like the Easter Sunday Brunch. "It's an opportunity for these people to get a hot meal and be a part of the holiday spirit. It also gives volunteers the opportunity to lend a hand. People who live in this area look forward to these events because it shows that people care about them," Left said.
This year seemed to be exceedingly affected by the economic recession. According to the Public Affairs Department, "There is a big change in who we have been serving. There is an unprecedented number of families affected by loss of jobs and foreclosures - families who recently got to this area because of the economy."
This year the annual event has seen more families than ever and this was unmistakable by the ample amount of small children who tugged on their mother's shirts.
Elizabeth, a woman who heard of the Easter Brunch through word of mouth has been staying in Skid Row for the last three months after leaving an abusive relationship. "I used to be very embarrassed about my situation. When you meet and learn about what people are going through here, it's not that embarrassing anymore," she said. "You have people in wheelchairs with no limbs and families, there is just no comparison."
Chance Johnson was robbed a few months ago after moving to L.A. and has been staying in one of Skid Row's community housing facilities for the past two months. "One day I hope to do something like this. Probably without this event, these people would never see anything like this," said Johnson about the event.
After speaking with visitors, the Mission's observation did not seem too far from reality. Working as a team, hundreds of volunteers were present cooking, hosting and serving hot meals to the residents of Skid Row.
Peggy Abrams, a long time volunteer who was passing out meals to visitors said "You cannot judge a book by its cover because you don't know their story. A lot of these people have had bad luck and were dealt bad cards."
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), one of the lead agencies in the effort to end homelessness, there are 40,144 homeless individuals on any given night in the city of L.A. Skid Row has the greatest concentration of homeless persons at 5,131. Fifteen percent of these people are under the age of 18.
Although the Midnight Mission exists amongst several other housing facilities located throughout Skid Row and L.A., many homeless remain without shelter and basic necessities.
According to a recently completed homeless count completed by the LAHSA, 83 percent of the homeless people identified in the point-in-time count were unsheltered, sleeping in the streets, alleys, autos, encampments, overpasses, doorways, tents, unconverted garages, sheds and the like while only 17 percent were living in either emergency shelters of transitional housing programs.
Although many residents of Skid Row do not choose to seek physical shelter in facilities such as the Mission, many do come out to events like Easter Brunch in search of a hot meal.
Abrams said of the Easter Street Fair "It's an amazing program. We need more of them. It gives these people something to look forward to. These people usually stand in line all day waiting to eat. But today is a special day in which they get to be served by another person."
Volunteers and residents of the Midnight Mission's program served the homeless this past Easter Sunday for a myriad of reasons - some with the intention of giving back to the community, some had wanted to do something productive with their weekend, and others had hoped to try something different for a change. Regardless of initial intentions, there is no doubt that these volunteers were being of service to the residents of Skid Row.
Simultaneously, those who were being served, the residents of Skid Row, were being of service to the very people who had come to help those in need.
The residents of Skid Row not only helped bring out patience and kindness but also served as reminders of what people often take for granted in their daily lives. Ultimately, being of service not only grants people the gift of awareness but also an opportunity for gratitude and humility.
"It's such a small thing, but very important," said Abrams. The Midnight Mission served over 900,000 meals this past year. More information can be found at www.midnightmission.org.