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Atlantic City Rescue Mission feeds residents more than a meal on Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving weekend used to kick off the holiday shopping season with big sales on Black Friday.

ATLANTIC CITY — For hundreds of people in the area who weren’t fortunate enough to have food on their plates, a roof over their head, or family and friends to spend Thanksgiving with, the Atlantic City Rescue Mission provided more than just a meal Thursday.

“These are people’s families, their husband, grandfather, cousin, uncle, brother or sister,” said Mike Heston, the volunteer coordinator for the Rescue Mission. “People who can be your family are now our family. People have a need to be loved.”

The Rescue Mission served about 500 Thanksgiving dinners to those in need. The menu included turkey, green beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, salads and rolls, as well as desserts like cheesecakes, cookies and pumpkin pies.

“Food is what makes people happy,” said Heston, who was the head chef for the Rescue Mission for about five years before he became the volunteer coordinator five months ago. “It opens up their heart and gives them hope. It fuels them and gives them enough perseverance to go on to the next day.”

Louis Baxter, a city native and one of the Rescue Mission’s chefs, said the feast took four days to put together.

“The sense of satisfaction I get,” said Baxter as to why he enjoys working at the Rescue Mission. “It’s nice to know you did something for someone other than yourself. Everything is about them. We get to do something good for the people, while getting the opportunity to turn donations into something good. They may be less fortunate, but they’re still people.”

Baxter said he feeds more than 200 people in a given shift at the Rescue Mission.

People donated at least 100 turkeys, 30 cases of cranberry sauce, plates and silverware for the feast.

The mission hasn’t had its usual number of volunteers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Heston said they plan to increase the number of volunteers they have working at a given time in the near future.

Right now, the mission has a total of about 60 volunteers, from all different areas.

The difference between Thanksgiving and any other day at the Rescue Mission is the family-type feeling, the volunteers said.

“People tend to stay longer, are more appreciative and have longer conversations,” Heston said.

Heston said this was the time of year they get the most donations.

“Homelessness can affect anyone at any given time,” he said.

Geraldine McCluskey, of Galloway Township, volunteered on Thanksgiving to give back to the community and feel a connection with others.

“My family is from all over the country,” said McCluskey, adding she has family in Colorado, Michigan, New York and other states. “This is my way of doing something for the holidays.”

She also recently lost her home in a fire a few weeks ago, along with many of her neighbors in the 18-unit apartment building, and is recovering from that.

“Doing this kind of work and dealing with what happened a couple weeks ago, it makes me grateful for what I do have,” McCluskey said.

McCluskey, who works in mental health, had a brother who died that was homeless, and said volunteering meant more because of that.

She used to volunteer at the Rescue Mission a few years ago on holidays like Thanksgiving and has noticed a change in the homeless population.

“The homeless population is older now,” said McCluskey. “And it’s a lot of people that are getting evicted or thrown out of their homes.”

Roberta Horton, who was part of a group from AtlantiCare’s Leadership Empowering Generations AtlantiCare Community and You (LEGACY) Employee Resource Group of Atlantic City volunteering Thursday, said giving back made her feel better following the recent death of her husband.

“It’s really about serving people that are affected by circumstances that are out of their control,” Horton said.

“People need to be loved,” Heston said. “If they can’t get love, they can come here, because people need to be shown more love.”

Contact Selena Vazquez:

609-272-7225

svazquez@pressofac.com

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