In 1965, in Huntington, a newlywed couple began feeding struggling families at a space they rented out on New York Avenue.
Reverend Rose Marie Gaines and her husband Reverend Jim Gaines fed 10 people over Thanksgiving and from there the Helping Hand Rescue Mission community initiative grew. Fifty-six years later, the daughter of the mission’s founders, Rev. Kimberly Gaines-Gambino, has taken over the presidency and plans to distribute food to more than 1,200 families for Thanksgiving.
“We are looking forward to a great season to help many families,” said Gaines-Gambino.
Year round, Helping Hand Rescue Mission operates a food and clothing pantry, also known as the Helping Hand Rescue Mission Community Closet, Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. She also runs a weekly baby blessings distribution program at a local church. Mothers in need stop to purchase essentials, such as baby clothes, diapers, wipes, formula, strollers, cribs and toys. The Mission receives donations from community members and through partnerships with organizations.
“We have enjoyed so much, especially during these times which have been so difficult, the incredible support we have received from the community,” said Gaines-Gambino. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without the help of people. “
Before the Covid pandemic, the Mission served around 90 people on average per week. At the height of the pandemic, volunteers served 500 or more people per week. Today, around 250 people ask for help every week.
Recognizing that many families cannot afford Christmas presents, Helping Hand Rescue Mission is having a big toy drive in December. Volunteers wrap new gifts and distribute full bags in the car to families.
Other annual events include Fall Family Mission Day, coat and backpack drives, and the children’s Easter celebration. In the past, the mission hosted an annual Christmas party, but has not returned to the event since the start of the pandemic.
Helping Hand Rescue Mission continued its Thanksgiving tradition of providing meals to families in need, but also in a different way since 2020. Community members now participate in “Fill a Box, Feed a Family” in where they decorate and fill a box with food that registered families can collect at a scheduled time and use it for their Thanksgiving meals.
“Without even having planned for it to be so, it gives families the opportunity to come together to help another family,” explains Gaines-Gambino. “The families we serve want to have Thanksgiving at home. Being able to cook and be with your family during the holidays is very special.
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