Many folks started lining up at 4:00am to make sure they got some food and toys for their children. They listened as a youth orchestra played Christmas songs – and then Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lead a prayer.
“Why don’t you hold hands, all through here—hold hands with a stranger. It’s alright; it’s good," said Villaraigosa, as he noticed people in the crowd wary to touch the person next to them.
Holding hands, and with eyes closed, the crowd listened.
“Please, share the love with the people who are hungry, with the people who are homeless, with the people who are putting their lives back on track," said Villaraigosa. "One community, all your children, in your name, and with your love. Amen… So let’s eat!”
Fernanda Guerra, her husband, and six little children, live in low-income housing near Pico-Rivera. They heard about the free Christmas Eve meal and toy giveaway from Guerra’s brother, who camped out at the corner of Fifth and Wall Streets over night to get them a seat at the table.
“My brother has been coming for years, and this time, he invited all of us and we were able to make it. We got here at 4 am and have been waiting for a warm meal since,” Guerra said.
Chef Ben Ford of Ford’s Filling Station restaurant was in charge of the special menu this year: lemon-rosemary roast chicken, cheesy grits, brown butter carrots, and a drink. And for dessert, a choice of chocolate or carrot cake.
The morning rain on the outdoor tables didn’t keep the diners away. And they kept streaming in past the event's 3 pm end time.
The operation ran smoothly, like an assembly-line, thanks to the effort of more than 400 volunteers.
Founded in 1936, Los Angeles Mission is a faith-based organization that helps homeless men and women. It is one of at least a dozen Christian organizations and churches that serve Skid Row’s transient population during --and after --the Holidays.
George Darby was one of them. He’s a member of Gideon’s International, an evangelical group that handed out palm-sized bibles to the diners. He prayed for one, Bobby, as the homeless man left.
“He said that he had a pretty good year last year, and he just prays that he has a better year this year," Darby said. "And that God’s provisions in his life would just be bountiful.”