Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mission Serves a Feast to Fill the Needs of Many; 20th Annual Feed the City Provides Holiday Meal, Clothes, Other Services

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mission Serves a Feast to Fill the Needs of Many; 20th Annual Feed the City Provides Holiday Meal, Clothes, Other Services

Article excerpt

Byline: Teresa Stepzinski

Food, faith, fellowship and bicycle repair beneath an overcast sky warmed the souls of low-income families and the homeless who lined up around the block Sunday for a free turkey dinner with all the trimmings, some winter clothes or a haircut and companionship during the 20th annual Feed the City at the Clara White Mission on West Ashley Street downtown.

At least 1,000 people, many on foot or bicycle, came to the post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas meal and celebration.

Ju'Coby Pittman, president and chief executive officer of the Clara White Mission, was among the most thankful Sunday.

In October, the Jacksonville City Council, under pressure to cut spending, voted against restoring an $82,000 public service grant to the nonprofit.

Without that grant, many poor people no longer would have access to nutritious meals because the mission would only be able to provide meals three days a week instead of all seven days. It was the first time in the mission's 110-year history that it would receive no city support.

However, the Chartrand Foundation as well as the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and Marcus Adair Foundation stepped up with donations to replace the lost city funding.

"I'm just so excited that we didn't have to stop our programs," said Pittman, adding the Chartrand Foundation gift will allow the mission to develop a safety net. That way, if city funding is again cut "we won't have to hold our breath and wonder if we can do this and have another year."

"We are safe this year. But we need to see what is going to happen for next year," she said.

"For me, providing food every day to the homeless helps them identify if they are ready to change their lives because we have training programs as well in culinary arts, janitorial and construction. And since we've started this program, we've graduated over 800 students and 60 percent to 70 percent of them are still in the workforce."

Sunday's meal was prepared by the mission's culinary arts students. The sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Jacksonville Alumnae Chapter heaped hearty spoonfuls of hot roast turkey, dressing, veggies, mashed potatoes and gravy on plates with a kind word and warm smile for the diners.

The family of Willie Cox, LaShonda Thomas and her three children ages 6, 7 and 4, have come to the event for three years.

"It's good to come to get clothes for the kids, to get your bikes and things worked on, try to help if you can and volunteer," said Cox, noting the economy has taken a toll on many. "It can be really hard to get by these days.

The sorority sisters were among the many regular volunteers at the mission. A contingent of volunteers from Celebration Church fixed bicycles needing repairs. Church members help out at least twice a month at the mission.

Mike Brinson looked on as church Pastor Wade Johnson of its outreach ministries worked on his bicycle. …

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