Originally created 12/26/96

Homeless find warmth and meals around the state



Hot food and hot showers for the homeless. Police collaborating with Santa. One family even got a new home for Christmas.

From Atlanta to Albany, the whole state was celebrating the season.

At the Atlanta Union Mission, 200 volunteers dished up turkey, ham and all the trimmings to more than 1,000 people who waited patiently in a line that snaked around a half block downtown.

"On Christmas Day, we really try to demonstrate through our actions ... the opportunity of hope and new beginnings that are available," said mission executive director Vince Smith.

A homeless man, who goes only by the name "Jasper" said the free feast each year is a welcome break from a life on the street.

"When you're out on the street, everybody looks at you like you're nothing," he said. "But in here they really try to help to you out. Sometimes it may be just a bowl of soup, but it's better than nothing."

Showers, clothing, deodorant and toothpaste were also available for those who showed up to feast.

For 12-year-old Kory Vialet, the meal was a reunion of sorts.

"I saw a guy here I know. I didn't know he was homeless," Vialet said, eyes wide with disbelief.

Atlanta's Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts spent the day delivering meals to more than 2,100 seniors and shut-ins across the city.

Savannah police helped usher Santa Claus in to visit underprivileged children in different hospitals around the coastal city. They spent Christmas Eve delivering presents and giving children a holiday shopping spree so they wouldn't be empty-handed on the big day.

The Albany Rescue Mission brought toys and food baskets to more than 100 people around the city and fed the homeless a holiday feast of turkey, ham, dressing and sweet potato souffle, mission spokesman Bill Larkin said.

In Columbus, the Salvation Army gave 870 food baskets to families and toys to dozens of children who otherwise would do without, said army worker Allen Turvin. The group also hosted a sit-down dinner for more than 150 people.

"We'll feed anybody who wants to come up and eat. A lot of the people on the street want to come inside and get warm," Turvin said.

Macon's mission was packed early Wednesday with about 250 to 300 people by noon.

"We are feeding everyone that comes in: turkey, dressing, rice, green beans and dessert," said Claude Foster, a 67-year-old homeless man who has served people at the Macon mission for seven years.

But a Cobb family perhaps got the best gift this year.

Sumter County's Habitat for Humanity chapter built Doreen Swain, her two daughters and her grandson a new home in time for Christmas.

Swain, who once called a trailer home, said, "It's a dream."

"It's our Christmas house," said Habitat spokeswoman Jennifer Oliver. "Every year ... the Sumter County affiliate has built a house (for a family) between Thanksgiving and Christmas."