Shelter extends service, support

Over 1,000 hot dinners given for the holiday


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Bay Area Rescue Mission culinary arts manager Chris Dikes talks to the volunteers and staff before serving the food, giving words of motivation in a hallway at the Richmond Civic Center during the annual Great Thanksgiving Banquet sponsored by the Bay Area Rescue Mission.

By Roxana Amparo, Associate Editor

Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce filled the bellies of Richmond community members at the Richmond Civic Center on Nov. 25 during the Thanksgiving banquet.

The Bay Area Rescue Mission (BARM), a nonprofit organization in Richmond that provides food and shelter for those in need, opened its doors from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and were ready to provide 1,500 meals.

“For a lot of people this may be the only Thanksgiving meal they have,” Bay Area Rescue Mission Vice President Woody Tausend said. “We are trying to help lower income families,” he said.

Tausend said there is a lack of “positivity” in the community and the banquet brings fun for everyone.

The BARM plans the banquet annually to provide a free meal for anyone entering the doors of the civic center.

Attendees listened as BARM members and graduates shared testimonials of their life before coming to the mission.

Programmer Kevin Brown said the BARM “saved” him. “I’d be dead if it weren’t for the mission,” he said. “I was a hardcore alcoholic.”

Through aid and support while in the program for 21 months, Brown’s life took a different route.  “I found a new identity,” he said.

A primary focus for the BARM is to impact the lives of its community members.

Contra Costa College student Darwain Buchanan said the rescue mission helped him get through his hardships. Prior to completing the program offered by the BARM, he saw himself in a tough situation, he said.

“They (BARM) had a spot for me and now I am giving back to the community and doing my part.”

Brown, along with all of the programmers, helped seat the crowd while they waited for meals to be served.

John Anderson, BARM president and CEO, said, “I was homeless myself on the streets of Southern California.”

Volunteer Services Manager Marshelle Wilburn said, “This is all to raise awareness about those in need and so people can understand you are (potentially) a check away from homelessness.”

Wilburn said about 800 meals were served during last year’s banquet.

An estimated 750 meals were served and some attendees even went back for a second plate, Tausend said.

The tightly packed, autumn decorated tables allowed for close conversations and holiday vibes.

While student and parent servers opened up the food service with a salad, a traditional Thanksgiving meal and pumpkin pie to close, attendees shared conversations.

“This is comforting. It feels like home,” BARM representative Terri Birdzell said.

Tears filled Birdzell’s eyes as she fed her baby.

“If my baby likes the food, it means it is good,” she said.

Brown said, “Anything the mission can do for the community is reflected here through this banquet. Having a whole community come together is special.”

SAMA Academy of Martial Arts volunteered at the event for the third year and had 40 to 50 students and parents present.

“We are blessed with the things we have and want to give back to the community,” SAMA Program Coordinator Maria Maki said.

She said her group travels from Pinole to show support for the Richmond community.