Tacoma Rescue Mission volunteers spend their holiday with those in need

kari.plog@thenewstribune.comNovember 29, 2013 

Jeremy Maneja of Gig Harbor and his relatives celebrate Thanksgiving a day late every year.

The family figures their dinner can wait — there are other important mouths to feed.

Maneja’s family, and any other friends they persuade to come along, have spent the last decade volunteering at the Tacoma Rescue Mission, serving Thanksgiving meals to those in need.

It is a tradition Maneja says makes a small, but meaningful, difference.

“At least doing it once a year is something,” he said Thursday.

The mission is a nonprofit that serves meals year-round, relying primarily on donations and the help of volunteers. It also provides shelter to homeless and struggling people and families in Pierce County.

The boost in monetary and food donations during the holiday season helps sustain operations the rest of the year, volunteer coordinator Jessica Brathwaite said. The number of volunteers also is higher during the holidays, she said.

“We try to get as many people in to experience it as possible,” Brathwaite said. “We beef up the shifts since so many people want to give back.”

Food service director Lance Ebey said two of the six mission facilities serve Thanksgiving meals, providing about 1,500 total. Nearly 1,000 meals are served on a typical day during the colder months.

“Our mission is to help people to transform lives,” Ebey said.

Chris Zimmerman, a first-time volunteer and new Tacoma resident, knows something about transformation.

He lived in a homeless shelter about 10 years ago, but now works as site manager with a cleaning company and recently moved to Tacoma from Colorado. He said he has no family nearby and thought volunteering would be a great way to cure his homesickness.

“I’ve been where every one of these people have been,” Zimmerman said.

The mission’s executive director, Brian Sonntag, said his favorite thing about the holiday meal is seeing everyone smile. Although Thanksgiving is slightly more hectic, Sonntag said, it is pretty much business as usual for the organization.

“A lot of planning goes in every day,” he said.

Derek Bray, a food service coordinator, has been with the mission for about a year and a half. He sees the busy holiday operations from beginning to end. His day running the kitchen started at 4:30 a.m. Thursday and he expected to wrap up more than 12 hours later.

Despite the crazy atmosphere, Bray said he loves working for a good cause. The volunteers he works with include interns from Goodwill and the state Department of Social and Human Services, as well as people in drug addiction recovery and others dealing with difficult circumstances.

“It’s a diverse community,” he said. “I work really hard to help them out, make them feel comfortable and try to create good habits.”

For Traci Carlin and her children, the decision to volunteer this year was a simple one. She said her children, Takota Johnson, 4, Jaidin Carlin, 6, and Trevin Ferguson, 9, love to volunteer.

Although it is their first time volunteering at the mission, she says her family has always found ways to give back.

“We think being part of the community would be better than sitting at home,” she said.

ONLINE

See a photo gallery of the Thanksgiving meal at the Tacoma Rescue mission, and watch a video of volunteers hard at work at thenewstribune.com.

More information: Learn more about donations, meals and services, and volunteer opportunities at the Tacoma Rescue Mission at rescue-mission.org.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 kari.plog@thenewstribune.com @KariPlog

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