For the first time, Dwayne Washington did not celebrate Thanksgiving with his family or friends. Instead, he made it to the Denver Rescue Mission.
“I never thought I would be in this situation,” Washington said. “But it’s good that people treat you with respect – and they love you here.” So yeah, I’m pretty happy.
Washington is among those experiencing homelessness for the first time – a number that is doubled in Denver after start of pandemic, according to a study.
The nonprofit on Wednesday served hundreds of plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and buns at its downtown Lawrence Street location. Mission Chief Kevin Baker said it was important to go all out and serve a delicious meal and reminding people that they are loved even when they are struggling.
“I want to serve hope for people. I want to serve them with dignity. I want to serve them grace, ”said Baker. “I want to make sure our guests feel special. “
Washington said he felt that hope and care during the meal.
“I had two plates,” he says. “I’m full of turkey and stuffing. It was great.”
He is from Louisiana and came to Colorado for seasonal work. When the season was over and plans for another job failed, he found himself with no place to live.
“I’m quite grateful,” Washington said. “And I’m looking to get back on my feet, but while I’m in transition the Denver rescue mission has been the best.”
Some people, like Darren Kiehne, are eager to join recovery programs.
“There are good days. There are bad days. There are times when you cry so hard and pray to God so hard and feel there’s no more hope, and then that might change that afternoon. And someone might even give you a high five or a hug, and something as simple as that can change your whole mentality, ”he said. “So like right now, I feel pretty optimistic. ”
Her favorite part of the meal was the carrot cake served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Others hope their housing insecurity will end soon. Patricia Darrington said she lost her home during the pandemic. But she has since worked to organize accommodation that she hopes to find by Christmas. She is already planning a tree.
“I’ve never experienced homelessness before, ever,” she said. “It’s really scary. First. Now I am strong. I was strong before, but now I’m even stronger.
US Senator John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also stopped to serve food, pies and hot chocolate. Hickenlooper has volunteered at the event since 2005, having only missed it a few times.
“I actually love it when you put the plate of food in front of someone who is clearly hungry and expecting a hot, hot meal,” Hickenlooper said. “Especially on a day like today, when it’s dark and cold outside.”
Last weekend, a staff member at the 48e rue de la Mission location was stabbed to death by a man whom Denver police have since arrested. The death was shocking and painful for the staff and leaders of the mission, said Nicole Tschetter, director of public relations.
“Today at the Great Thanksgiving Banquet, it’s a beautiful reminder of why we do what we do,” she said, “and that’s to meet homeless people where they need it. ”
As for Washington, he has an interview for a new job on Monday. He is optimistic about the future.
“It is a place where you can come for treatment with decency and get back on your feet,” he said. “As long as you’re ready… take that push and pull yourself out of the situation, they’re there for you.” Colorado is the best.