A meal that helps many
More than 100 people gathered for a Christmas meal Wednesday at Rochester's Salvation Army, enjoying food, Christmas songs and companionship.
About the same number of volunteers served and talked with them.
"I say to them, 'You are here to be their family today,'" said Salvation Army Maj. Paulette Frye, the wife of Maj. James Frye.
Among the guests were Avis Hamson, whose 68th birthday is today, and her son Dan, both of Rochester.
"We always come for Thanksgiving and for Christmas," Hamson said. The meal means Hamson and her son can eat together, saving her the task of cooking a big meal.
"It's so wonderful that they would give of themselves to serve everybody," she said.
Engineering/drafting/design major Josh Archer attends the Twin Cities' Dunwoody College, but he's home for the holidays. He said he volunteered Wednesday because "I feel like the Salvation Army helped restore my life."
At age 15, Archer, now 24, said he became a "bottom-of-the-barrel meth-head." He eventually went to jail and has been clean about 17 months.
"In jail, a guy told me about the Salvation Army, and I'm like, 'I'm willing to do whatever it takes'… I came straight to Salvation Army from jail,'" he said.
The faith-based organization put him to work 40 hours per week.That gave him a grounding that helped him get clean. He also credits God, saying his Christmas wish is community members "can accept Christ as their lord and savior, because their life would be transformed, as mine was."
He sat, talked and ate a meal alongside community members Wednesday.
"I know some of these people because I'm from Rochester. I can see this hurt and this sorrow," he said. "I want them to recognize me and see there's a change in me."
Salvation Army, Hamson said, helps people in various life circumstances.
"I think of all the homeless people ... all the people that donate the food at Salvation Army," she said. "And the volunteers that cook and make the food so the homeless (and) people can come and socialize together."
Many have nothing but the clothes on their back, she said, "but they can come here."
Barbara Johnson, 70, said the ham, squash, beans and carrots were wonderful.
She lives nearby "so I have not too bad a walk from here."
Florence Culver, of Rochester, said "some of us older people wouldn't have anybody to have Christmas dinner with." But Salvation Army fills in.
The meal helps volunteers as much as those who partake.
"This is the stuff I want to do, is help others," Archer said. "And hopefully, they can see the change in me."