Union Rescue Mission serves thousands at Thanksgiving feast

The Rev. Andy Bales speaks about the Thanksgiving Celebration at the Union Rescue Mission.

When asked what brought him to the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row, the Rev. Andy Bales recalled a sermon he gave 24 years ago.

“I preached a sermon about how important it is to feed people who are hungry and not turn your back on people who are hungry,” said Bales. “If you turn your back on people who are hungry, it’s like turning your back on God himself.

“And I preached that six times, and then on a weekend, I had a man ask me for my lunch and I turned him down. I realized that I was not practicing what I preached.”

So, in the spirit of “practicing what he preached,” Bales went to work at a downtown rescue mission, ultimately ending up at the Union Rescue Mission on San Pedro Street.

imageAnd on Saturday afternoon, Bales joined 300 volunteers in providing a Thanksgiving meal to an estimated 3,500 of Skid Row’s hungry.

The mission’s Thanksgiving Celebration, co-sponsored by the daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful, is its largest food event of the year.

Among event volunteers were cast members from The Bold and the Beautiful, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry and Paris Hilton, who Public Relations Specialist Kitty Davis-Walker said often volunteers at the Union Rescue Mission.

Donald Morris, who attended the event, said that the lines weaving up San Pedro Street were so long that he left and came back.

Gobbling down a piece of pumpkin pie next to Morris, Daljit Singh added, “I’ve enjoyed the food, enjoyed the lunch.”

While dishes ranged from stuffing to greens to macaroni and cheese, the highlight of the meal were 160 turkeys, cooked in 15 turkey fryers between the hours of 1 and 11 a.m.

“We’re trying to welcome everyone who’s on Skid Row, who’s experiencing homelessness and welcome them to our house. We welcome them to our house and welcome them to sit down and have a nice Thanksgiving Dinner,” said Bales.

imageThis year’s celebration differed from past ones in its location. Bales said it is usually held on San Pedro Street, but due to inclement weather, the celebration was moved inside.

“Having to do it inside made us live a little close and see each other a little closer, and so hopefully it built some community today,” he said.

Bales also hopes that the Thanksgiving Celebration will spread awareness about the programs at the Union Rescue Mission. The mission houses men, women and children and offers long-term rehabilitation programs.

The number of people on the streets of Skid Row has decreased from 2,000 to 750, said Bales. But he believes reaching out to the remaining 750 will be a greater challenge.

“They are reluctant to come into a mission. They are suffering physically and mentally and often battling addiction. And so, they need a special way to reach out to them,” said Bales.

For that reason, the mission offers cold water on hot days and extra beds during the winter. It has also partnered with the Chamber of Commerce and the United Way in advocating for the creation of more supportive permanent housing.

And at the Thanksgiving Celebration, it gave the residents of Skid Row a place to escape the rain, grab a meal and maybe more.

“Sometimes, it becomes more than a meal,” said Bales. “They may decide to make a change, come in and enroll in one of our programs and give life one more try.”