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KPBS Evening Edition

Rescue Mission Offers More Than Just A Thanksgiving Meal

Feeding San Diego's Needy 55 Years

The San Diego Rescue Mission started as a soup kitchen for homeless people 55 years ago. It's now one of the largest Christian missions in Southern California, offering shelter, recovery programs and half a million meals a year. Thanksgiving is one of the biggest.

"It's not just a meal, it's love all around from God all the way through," Brain Keough said. He supervises the kitchen at the San Diego Rescue Mission after going through its rehabilitation program four years ago. About 25 percent of the staff are former clients. And the mission has the only shelter in town that takes in women and children at night. Most are victims of domestic violence.

Oscar Torres, 38, grew up in San Diego and was a methamphetamine addict whose family didn't want anything to do with him. He says coming to the Rescue Mission changed his life.


"I accepted Christ here. I was born in the church, but I ran from it. I blamed God for what I was going through and he kicked me into reality and let me know that it was my choices that got me there, not him," Torres said.

He spent 22 months in the men's rehab program, eventually reunited with his family and now works at the mission to help other men transition and get back on their feet.

"It's a big thing for felons and people that haven't worked in a long time. They need all that extra help to get out there," Torres said.

Although the economy is slowly improving, it's not reflected in San Diego's growing homeless population. The mission's president Herb Johnson says people affected by Superstorm Sandy are seeking refuge.

"This place is getting flooded with people who lived on the East Coast, who were living marginally, now there's no jobs, the economy is flat and they're coming to San Diego in droves," Johnson said.


That's expected to add to the number of people seeking a friendly face and hot Thanksgiving meal on Saturday. The mission is preparing a meal for more than 2,000 people. Johnson says the Rescue Mission is funded entirely by public donations and the recent elections and damage from Sandy have had an impact.

"About 60 percent of our income comes in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so this is a very important time of the year for us in terms of fundraising," Johnson said.

The San Diego Rescue Mission has a two-month waiting list for all of its long-term programs, but offers three meals a day to the needy at the center and three other locations. The Thanksgiving meal will be served from 2 to 5 p.m. today.

San Diego Rescue Mission is located at 120 Elm Street downtown.