James spent 18 years living in “The Pit” — Skid Row. Today, thanks to you, he serves meals filled with love to those he left behind.
“When I cook meals for the guests at Union Rescue Mission, I cook with feeling,” said 59-year-old James, a chef at URM. “I put love into every meal, because when I see the faces of people here light up over the food they eat, it’s the best feeling there is.”
James helps Union Rescue Mission serve more than 2,600 meals every day to hungry guests, as well as hurting men, women, and children on Skid Row. But it’s the meals he served here last Thanksgiving that meant the most.
“I know what Thanksgiving is all about, and I was truly grateful,” he said. “When I saw those thousands of people lined up to eat, I thought, There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
18 years in “The Pit”
“I lived on the streets of Skid Row for 18 years,” James said, “back when we called it ‘The Pit’. I lived in a cardboard box — a cardboard condo. I used to eat here at Union Rescue Mission. All I wanted to do was eat, sleep, and use drugs. That’s it. You have to have a hard heart to survive here. I saw a lot of things that aren’t beautiful.
“Most of the people I knew out there are dead now.”
But on May 16, 1992, James escaped the streets for good. He got clean and sober and started a new career as a chef. By 2000, he was using his culinary skills at Union Rescue Mission to help serve those he once lived with on the streets.
“I love what I do,” he says.
“I have a lot of compassion for the people here, and I want to do whatever I can to help make life a little bit better for them.
“I know what they’re going through. If I wasn’t getting paid, I’d still be doing this — because someone did this for me when I was out there.”
For James, however, no meal is more important than Thanksgiving. And no meal takes more work. “That day we have to prepare more than 5,000 Thanksgiving meals. The week before, I’m working 16 hours a day to make sure it all gets done,” he says. “It’s a lot of chaos. Pressure. Tempers flaring. But when it’s all done, when you see all those people lined up — especially all the smiling mothers and children — I just cry, I’m so happy.
“I’ve been through a lot, but I’m blessed. I’ve been through the fire, but thanks to God, today I’m pure as gold. That’s what Thanksgiving means to me.”
LIVES OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN AT RISK
We must raise $1.75 million by September 30…or be forced to cut back on services at our emergency year-round shelter for men, women, children, and families!
Union Rescue Mission will serve more than 75,000 meals this holiday season and more than 5,000 meals at our Thanksgiving Celebration alone! It’s never too soon to start getting ready. Here’s a brief peek at everything that goes into making Union Rescue Mission’s special Thanksgiving celebration a day filled with good food and a whole lot of love.
1. FILL THE PANTRY
It takes months to collect enough food!
2. VOLUNTEER TO SERVE!
We need over 200 volunteers to help make this day special.
3. PREPARE FOOD
We have to start prepping the food almost a week in advance! After all, we have to serve more than 500 turkeys in one day!
4. MEALS ENJOYED, SMILING GUESTS
We’ll serve tens of thousands of meals this Thanksgiving season. The meals we serve can open the door to
a lifetime of change.
5. YOU'RE THE GUEST OF HONOR!
None of this is possible without YOU! Give someone a real reason
to offer thanks to God
LIVES OF WOMEN, CHILDREN AT RISK
We must raise $1.75 million by September…or we’ll be forced to cut back on our emergency year-round shelter for women, children, and families.
It takes someone special to help Union Rescue Mission serve more than 2,600 quality meals a day to precious souls on Skid Row. It takes someone with more than culinary skills — it takes someone with compassion and heart. And that’s James, who we feature in this issue of The Mission.
These are difficult times for James and all of us who work on Skid Row. Homelessness, especially on these streets, is growing and getting worse. Every day, I look outside and the human misery goes far beyond what I ever thought possible.
The number of people seeking our help has gone up 55% in the past year. To make matters worse, giving has fallen 23%. Our lifesaving work is simply not sustainable if these trends continue.
Usually this time of year, I’m excited to be heading into our fall and Thanksgiving season. This year, I feel apprehensive and a bit discouraged. But I’m still filled with gratitude — because I know there are caring people like you standing with us. Your partnership gives me hope that we will continue to do the Lord’s work of welcoming each and every guest who comes our way and embracing them with the compassion of Christ.