December 16, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
Soothing Christmas music, a Bible reading and a hot meal greeted about 15 men and women who came to the parish hall of St. Monica Episcopal Church in Hartford Wednesday.
The food, served Monday through Friday from 6 to 7 p.m., is provided by Hartford Rescue Mission, a nondenominational religious organization that rents space at the church, on Mather Street in the city's North End.
"We want the individuals who come here to feel comfortable, to know we care about them and want to help," said the Rev. Gregg Woods, a Baptist minister who runs the mission.
With evening temperatures plummeting this week, several of the mission's visitors said the warm room, free food and company are a welcome luxury.
"I'm full, but I just keep going because it tastes so good," said 49-year-old Peter, who is homeless and unemployed because of an arm injury. "Every day I rely on [free] meals because I'm not working right now. The rents are so high ... if all you make is $7 an hour, how can you afford to rent an apartment in Hartford?"
Those interviewed asked that only their first names be used.
Fred, a 60-year-old who clutched a cane and kept his worn parka zipped tight throughout the meal, said he tries to stay active and the prospect of a hot meal is a sure way to get him out and about. He lives in a nearby senior housing complex.
"Holidays are the hardest time for me," said Fred, who is in recovery for alcohol addiction and doesn't have much contact with his family. "When someone is lonesome and living alone, it makes it tough."
Also at dinner was 25-year-old Pat, formerly of Manchester, who came by with a few friends he met at a local shelter.
Hartford Rescue Mission provides free meals, clothing and spiritual support to people in the North End, using funds obtained through donations and fundraising. The group is affiliated with the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, a national organization with 22 missions in the Northeast.
Woods and his band of volunteers started in September handing out bag lunches and serving noontime meals at St. Monica's. But they switched to dinners in November when they discovered how few were being served in the North End.
If he can obtain his own space, Woods plans to open shelters for men and women, and offer GED and computer classes and worship services.
"We don't want to put a band-aid on an open wound," said Woods, who lives in Middletown and was co-pastor of the Good News Baptist Church there for several years.
"These people have been through a lot, they've been lied to and abused and don't have a lot of trust. We want them to know that we care, that we are not just giving them some line."
Hartford Rescue Mission will be serving a Christmas dinner Dec. 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. For information on Hartford Rescue Mission, call Woods at 860-324-4707.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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