Light of Life offers ‘More Than A Meal’ Thanksgiving event
Chuck Hightower has spent more than one Thanksgiving at the Light of Life Rescue Mission on Western Avenue in the North Side.
Here, where the staff is kind and the meals are warm, Hightower counts his blessings.
“You got some people that don’t wake up in the morning,” said Hightower, 56, who has been homeless and first visited Light of Life years ago to attend a 90-day rehabilitation program. He still visits even though his prospects have improved.
“It’s always nice to see new faces,” he said.
Hightower was one of about 1,200 people at the mission’s More Than A Meal event Thursday. The organization runs a rehabilitation program, serves meals and provides shelter to the homeless year-round.
After saying grace followed by a hearty “Amen,” volunteers served dinners of gravy-drenched turkey, green beans and cranberry with bottles of sweet tea and pies topped with whipped cream. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald of Squirrel Hill stopped by to serve plates. In the mission’s side yard, a white tent housed a coat donation table for people seeking warm clothes.
Regis Brucker Jr., 56, who is homeless, said he is grateful. He spent the past five days at the shelter and said he is thankful for the people he met, and the spiritual progress he has made.
“For the situation I’m in, I feel good,” he said.
Former Steelers offensive lineman and sideline reporter Craig Wolfley is a longtime volunteer who helps promote fundraisers to help the shelter. When he first visited in the late 1980s, he said, he saw a family with two children who couldn’t have been older than 8. His perspective on society, Wolfley said, was forever changed.
“When I finally came down, it changed my whole life,” he said. “People come in hopeless, and they leave hopeful, and it’s incredible to see the restoration of lives.”
Light of Life works to build relationships with those seeking help, spokeswoman Kate Wadsworth said. Some who recover there become part of the mission themselves. Steve Rorison has worked for Light of Life for 16 years. He had spent 25 years as a heroin addict and spent some time in jail before joining the rehab program. Now he helps with new clients coming in off the streets or from prison.
“It helps, when they hear that you’ve been there,” he said.
Some volunteers stopped by to pick up boxed meals to deliver them to residents unable to leave their homes. While the holiday season brings in extra help from volunteers, the group’s need is not seasonal.
“There are some people that have a place to live but each month they’re deciding, ‘Do I buy groceries or do I pay my electric bill?’” said Jessi Marsh, director of development at Light of Life. For these families, the mission delivered 422 laundry baskets full of Thanksgiving meal ingredients to needy families in the area, Marsh said.
Pittsburgh police officers, Rotarians and other volunteers delivered meals through the Get Stuffed With Love program, now in its 12th year. Coordinator and Community Relations Officer Christine Luffey said this year marks the first time it expanded citywide. The program collected a record-breaking 2,194 meals.
Heather Dieckmann, a co-chair of the program, said recipients include families, individuals and those who typically receive Meals on Wheels, which does not run on Thanksgiving. The meals included hot turkey with gravy, scoops of stuffing and potatoes, doughy rolls and a dessert. Prep work started last week, Dieckmann said.
By 11:30 a.m., volunteers loaded leftovers in foil-wrapped trays into the back of a Pittsburgh police van. They delivered them to the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, a church group that serves free hot meals Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Luffey said the program makes Thanksgiving her favorite day of the year.
“In our line of work, a lot of people meet us in bad circumstances, some of them may be the worst shape of their life,” Luffey said. “But this is a way to make people happy and again to show them that we care.”
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or [email protected].