No matter how big your family is, chances are you won’t be cooking as much as Julio Arroyo this Thanksgiving. He’s the food director at Philadelphia’s oldest continual provider of care to the homeless, the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission at 13th and Vine streets in Center City Philadelphia.
Don’t let the name fool you. They provide three meals a day, 365 days a year.
This Thanksgiving, Arroyo will prepare 35 turkeys for 250 people.
A major undertaking? No, Arroyo says, “it’s nothing.”
Arroyo’s story is one of transcendence and redemption. Six years ago he was on the other side of the line, not serving food, but homeless himself.
He was searching for his next meal for so long that he can’t remember when he started.
“I don’t know, I guess all my life, because I was doing drugs all my life. I was jumping from one state to another, you know?” he said. “I don’t know what I was looking for.”
Eventually he found Sunday Morning Rescue Mission and completed a program that opened the door to a full-time job that allows him to be an example to the hundreds of homeless people who come through the mission’s doors on a daily basis.
“I try to show them, there’s another way to live,” Arroyo said. “They can see me and maybe they can change too.”
‘Tis the season
Stories like these are usually told around the holidays, a time when the culture brings to the forefront our thoughts about giving and remembering the less fortunate.
No surprise too, it’s this time of year that soup kitchens and shelters see a huge spike in volunteering.
“A lot of people call and can’t get in on Thanksgiving just because you literally have too many cooks in the kitchen, and once you get past the 20-person mark, serving becomes kind of tough,” said Ryan Hibbard, Sunday Morning’s director of development.
Hibbard appreciates when people think of his rescue mission at any time of year, but wishes more did so in the leaner calendar cycles.
On a cold day in February, Sunday Morning will feed as many people as on Thanksgiving, but with only a tiny fraction of the help.
Nick Lordi is the mission’s ministry director.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is encourage our volunteers that are calling up now and asking to volunteer is to say ‘hey, yeah you can come in this week or next week, but maybe you want to come back in a few weeks or a few months and volunteer doing the same thing you’d be doing this week, but do it in the future when we don’t have people calling every day.'”
Aside from the three daily meals, Sunday Breakfast provides up to 200 beds a night to homeless men seeking a night’s shelter. Their yearly operating budget is about $2.8 million.
Relying almost exclusively on private donations, development director Hibbard says there’s one form of giving that’s always in season, and always needed. “A big way to have an impact is to write a check,” he said.
It’s estimated that 430,000 people in Philadelphia depended on food pantries at least once in the past year.