Saturday, December 25, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Presents wrapped and ready to be handed out by volunteers
at River of Life at 101 N. Pauahi St. More than 100 people
were expected for Christmas dinner at the mission.

At River of Life,
homeless have names

The mission plans to make
Christmas meals for up to
500 needy people today

By Lori Tighe


Corky, a 49-year-old homeless woman, sipped her coffee across the street from River of Life Mission and celebrated Christmas in her own way. She began by counting her blessings.

"I thank the dear Lord every day for the River. They're awesome. ... If it hadn't been for the River, I wouldn't have clothing and wouldn't be fed. If they can help us, they will in some way, shape or form. Here," she added, "you're treated as a person."

She looks forward to the upcoming year she said, more than other years past.

"I have a better outlook on things. I'm beginning to fully understand what Christmas is all about."

People hustled and bustled at River of Life Mission in Chinatown this morning preparing a Christmas meal for people such as Corky.

Hands passed trays of turkey, ham and stuffing to buffet lines. Volunteers directed traffic as people without homes curled around the block waiting in line.

Staff talked through two-way radios to orchestrate the event. "You got the name tags yet? Where are the name tags?" they asked each other.

Names are important at the River of Life.

"We don't call them homeless, we call them by their names," said Reese Williams, program director for the nonprofit Christian agency which feeds, clothes and ministers to the needy.

River of Life is expected to feed as many as 500 people today with 200 pounds each of turkey and ham.

The mission receives more diners on Christmas than Thanksgiving, when more agencies serve dinner to the needy, Williams said.

"We have 50 volunteers, and we had to turn some away. We're really blessed on holidays because people have the time off," he said.

The mission, operating for a dozen years at 101 N. Pauahi St., feeds the homeless every day, provides clothes, showers and a medical clinic.

"The message today is the birth of Christ and the wonderful gifts He brought to all of us," Williams said. "We just remain faithful and let God do the work."

River of Life has just begun a campaign to own the building it rents so the mission can provide more services including recovery programs and a residential shelter, said Julie Ohara, development officer.

"Recovery is the biggest problem. Most homeless people have problems with abuse. We find they have better outcomes if they heal their hearts first," she said.

The volunteers serving food today included a homeless man named Fred, 57, born and raised here.

He's lived at Aala Park for the past year since separating from his wife, who wanted her space after 21 years of marriage, he said.

"I give back to the mission for helping me," he said. "We're blessed the Lord gives us a place to come."

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