Thankfulness comes in many forms: For one’s family, one’s friends, one’s home, one’s job. But the simplest and the most shared at the Turlock Gospel Mission’s Thanksgiving feast was for a warm meal and kind people.
“It’s extra-special, this,” said Monica Kyleman, who came dressed for the occasion in a sparkly orange dress with her fiancé, Andrew Gardener. Both are homeless. “It’s a real nice meal.”
The Turlock homeless ministry served its first Thanksgiving dinner in the footprint of its new shelter. This time next year, organizers hope to have a 49-bed year-round shelter for men and women in the South Broadway site.
The inaugural event is part of the ministry’s continued outreach, which currently involves a day resource center, daily warm meals and a winter relief shelter for women and children. The $1.8 million project needs $500,000 to begin its first phase, which would transform the empty warehouse at 437 S. Broadway into sleeping dorms with a dining room.
Turlock Gospel Mission board Chairman Chris Kiriakou said the organization, which was founded in 2007, has always wanted to start a year-round shelter. But its mission is about more than providing a safe place for the homeless and hurting to sleep.
“Our goal is not just to provide food and shelter,” Kiriakou said. “Our goal is to restore people. We want to provide them health care, resources, faith, and bring them back to being productive members of society.”
The mission has a 10-year plan for its shelter, which includes five phases of work and the construction of two additional buildings on the site. The first phase will begin construction in January and with hopes for completion by October 2014. The group has raised $290,000 of the needed $500,000 so far, much of that from a $250,000 donation by Hilmar Cheese Co. The Turlock Gospel Mission is funded entirely through private donations and receives no federal or state grants.
Ministry Administrator Rhonda Boucher said they hope to turn the Thanksgiving meal, which was prepared the day before by volunteer chefs and helpers at the Stanislaus County Fairground, into an annual event. This year saw a light crowd, and at the start, more volunteers were present than attendees. Enough food was prepared for 400 diners, though perhaps half of that came.
“This community is really strong and has come out to support us every time,” Boucher said. “We’ve had so many volunteers and offers to help.”
For those who came for the food and fellowship, the menu included the traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey and all the fixings. The assortment of pies for dessert was especially impressive, with the choices ranging from pumpkin to pecan to apple, with some red velvet and carrot cake thrown in.
Turlock couple Tommy Ortiz and Erin Bockoven brought their two daughters, Iris and Josefina, to the meal. The family has been homeless since moving back to the area from Arizona two weeks ago. Bockoven and the children are able to stay at a friend’s house each night. But Ortiz sleeps in the family’s truck.
“It’s tough, mentally. It’s hard with the kids to have to go through this,” Ortiz said. “But we wouldn’t want to be apart. This is the first time we really don’t have a place to live. We don’t have a place where we can cook a turkey. So something like this is a blessing.”