Sunrise Community Church continues to help homeless people through Thanksgiving meal

Jane Angelo woke up Thursday morning and felt a tinge of despair.

She lives alone out of her car, a decision she chose but with reminders of loneliness on days like Thanksgiving and during times like the coronavirus pandemic.

A regular visitor to the Sunrise Community Church on Menchaca Road in South Austin, Angelo knew this year’s Thanksgiving meal offered by the church for the homeless would be different.

But Angelo, 56, still showed up hours early, sitting in his car early in the morning before joining the end of a long line before meal time at 11 a.m. .

The line stretched across the front of the church and along Menchaca, with duct tape and yellow spray paint marking six feet of space between people, while masks were required and given to anyone who didn’t. had none.

It was when Angelo joined the line that she again crossed paths with a good friend, Frank Montefusco, 74. They hadn’t seen each other for quite some time after meeting two years ago at Sunrise, which runs a fully integrated homeless day resource center on weekdays.

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, the two friends were joking in the Sunrise parking lot while eating a turkey spread, a casserole of green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing, fruit pies and more on a folding table Angelo had picked up in his car.

While she and Montefusco enjoyed the hot holiday meal, it was the context of her company and her community that made it so special.

“Living in this community in the middle of a pandemic is a little scary, especially in old age,” Angelo said. “In this community, knowing that you had somewhere to go today was really important to me.”

Serving the homeless community

Sunrise Senior Pastor Mark Hilbelink began Thursday’s meal with a prayer.

A megaphone was needed to project his voice loud enough that everyone could hear it.

After a reminder of daily services, like hot showers, and weekly services like food stamps, provided by Sunrise to the homeless community of Austin, Hilbelink blessed the meal.

“Lord, we are frustrated that so many of our friends have to be on the streets, but we thank you for the community they are building there, the community that we can have together,” said Hilbelink. “Bless this food, help us have a good time here today. “

This last line resonated with Angelo and Montefusco.

A jovial atmosphere surrounded their meal, as the couple greeted and greeted friends from the Austin homeless community who arrived and left. Some of them were familiar faces of Angelo, who was homeless with his then 22-year-old daughter in Austin a few years ago before the couple left for Louisiana, only for Angelo to return later. alone.

Others were more visible to Montefusco, a former New York architect and construction engineer who has been homeless in Austin for nearly six years. It was his sixth Thanksgiving at Sunrise, and he said other than the meal that was moved outside due to the pandemic, nothing has changed about that.

“This man has not closed his doors,” said Montefusco, referring to Hilbelink. “He opened his arms. He said, ‘Come on, I’ll take care of you.’ And he did it all the time.

Montefusco, who helps Sunrise during Sunday church services, said Sunrise was still open every weekday to care for the homeless, at a time when pantries and libraries had restricted access, is important.

Maintaining a sense of community among Austin’s homeless population is another benefit of Sunrise’s engagement, Angelo said. She recognizes the sacrifices made by everyone from Hilbelink to the volunteers who helped Sunrise organize Thursday’s meal, and the role they played in making it a reality.

“There are a few places that do (a Thanksgiving meal for the homeless). I’m not saying no one else does it, but again, he (Mark) does it every day, ”Angelo said. “For me, this is just another way to bring the community together. He takes his time, everyone is. I just think the fact that he managed to pull it off is amazing.

Choose to volunteer

Of the 55 volunteers who helped Sunrise feed people between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday, Nick Russo was probably one of the most recent in Austin. Most of the 29-year-old’s family are based in Long Island and he did not feel safe returning home to New York as cases of COVID-19 increased across the country.

He had volunteered at pantries in Boston before, and after moving to Austin in September for work, he wanted to find a way to get to know the community while giving back. A quick Google search led him to Sunrise, where he spent the morning helping set up tables for food outside and placing six foot marks to space the line, then early in the morning. afternoon to organize the flow of traffic in the parking lot.

“I think it touches home – humanity, there is a real community here,” Russo said. “When you see a city rapidly gentrifying, it’s one of the strongholds of what Austin was and still is, but less so.”

Inside the A-building of the church is where the food was prepared on Thursday.

Meat was removed from the turkeys, boxes of Dr Pepper were removed from packs of 12, and a constant stream of Sunrise volunteers and staff came through the door to make sure things were running smoothly.

Sarah Combs, the volunteer coordinator at Sunrise, said about 60% of the people who volunteered to help on Thursday were brand new to her.

This influx of volunteer efforts comes as Combs said more people are newly homeless and are therefore likely to benefit from Sunrise’s services.

Care and comfort

After remaining stable for the first 90 minutes of the meal, the queue finally shrank as 1 p.m. approached, with the leftovers having to be stored in one of the church’s commercial refrigerators to feed people in the rooms. next days.

The sense of comfort that Sunrise provides for the homeless community of Austin means that the food will also go quickly.

Seeing an old friend in line over the holidays reminded Montefusco and Angelo of the power of community, something that changed for so many during the pandemic.

This inherent human quality doesn’t change for someone because of their economic status or their accommodation, Angelo said, and the chance to enjoy a meal with a friend goes a long way in filling that Thanksgiving void.

“” How can we beat this? »Asked Montefusco, indicating the places. “We eat on a beautiful table. We laugh, we talk, we have a good time. Where else can we do this in Austin? “

On Thursday, Sunrise Community Church serves Thanksgiving meals to homeless people in Austin.  Due to the coronavirus pandemic, those in attendance wore masks and were socially distanced in the line of service.

Norma P. Rex