Union Gospel Mission in Pasco feeds the needy with volunteer help

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldDecember 26, 2012 

The dining hall at the Union Gospel Mission in Pasco was packed Christmas Day with people wearing smiles from ear to ear as they feasted on a dinner fit for a king.

There was turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, gravy, yams, salads, rolls with fresh herb-whipped butter, as well as pumpkin pie.

Most of the people were homeless; some were children. But everyone was eating a hot meal in a warm place that helped them forget for a while that their lives had fallen on bad times.

"There are good people who work here," said Rodney Roseboro, 37. "The mission helped me get on my feet when I first moved here from North Carolina (earlier this year) and I keep coming back here to attend worship services and to see if I can help in some way."

Roseboro is one of many Tri-City volunteers who help feed the hungry and homeless at the Mission.

Yvette Carrasco, 39 of Kennewick is another. She was born and raised in California, and is a full time psychology student at Washington State University Tri-Cities. She always has held a special place in her heart for the homeless.

"Volunteers are always needed and I learned through my church that the Mission needed volunteers for its Christmas dinner," Carrasco said. "I just like doing this kind of thing. Through my church, I've taken my kids and traveled to Mexico to help build homes for the poor there. It feels good in the heart to do this."

Natalie Maiuri, a 42-year-old Kennewick teacher, and her 6-year-old daughter Sophia stood on the assembly line helping serve food to about 150 people who welcomed of the free meal.

"My husband and I wanted to teach our daughter something about giving that didn't involve buying something," Maiuri said. "It's important to think outside yourself sometimes and others when we can."

As for little Sophia, she didn't have much to say. She was too busy scooping piles of yams onto plates.

Byron Brooks, the Mission's men's ministry director, said there have been larger crowds at of the Christmas dinner in years past, and about 95 percent of those are homeless.

He said the Mission is blessed with kindness from Tri-City businesses and private individuals who donate money and products for the meal. But you don't have to be homeless to get the free meal, either, he said.

"This Mission is located in perhaps the poorest area of the Tri-Cities," Brooks said. "The average income within (several blocks) is about $22,000. We welcome anyone to our tables if they are hungry."

Brooks was helped by the Union Gospel Mission years ago when he was a self-described hopeless drug addict.

"I decided I just wanted to die so I was on my way to the dope house to overdose so I could just go to sleep," he said.

But along the way, Brooks said he suddenly heard a voice said to him, "Are you sure you want to do this to yourself?"

"That voice was a clear to me as you talking to me right now," he said. "It was the voice of Jesus. I even remember the exact time I heard it. It was 9:45 a.m., and I swear in that moment I was no longer an addict and have been clean ever since."

The Union Gospel Mission helped Brooks, 54, get back on his feet and continued to give him a reason to keep pursuing a more productive life.

"That was 13 years ago, and I had $33,000 of debit to pay off, but I did it working various construction jobs, then coming to work for the mission in 2004," he said with smile. "Overcoming those kind of odds is a feeling you don't forget, and I love every day I can maybe help someone else get past their troubles."

There are lots of reasons people fall on bad times and its not for anyone to judge, Brooks adds. "But if it's in your heart to help someone in need never pass up that chance," he added.

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