Terri Giaquinto and her two children celebrated Christmas by being with people who needed a helping hand — or at the very least needed a hot meal and some company on the holiday.
Giaquinto, her daughter Kristen, and her son Jonathan were among 60 volunteers serving a full dinner Wednesday at the Haven of Rest Ministries Christmas luncheon in downtown Akron. Turkey breast, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn pudding, pumpkin pie and beverages were on the menu.
“My parents have volunteered [at Haven of Rest] for years now,” said Giaquinto, 43. Her mother invited her to help this Christmas at the Akron outreach organization, she said. “I’m just amazed at the program here. The services provided are just phenomenal.”
The Haven of Rest, 175 E. Market St., was founded in 1943 and is a nondenominational, Christian-based, social service organization that provides shelter, food and other services for people who are homeless or otherwise struggling and living in poverty. The organization does not use government funds.
This Christmas, volunteers and staff cooked 130 turkeys and 300 pounds of potatoes for lunch and dinner. Some of the food will be used for meals later this week.
Kristen Giaquinto, a 19-year-old University of Akron student, said she was more than happy to help out.
“I think it is a great way to get involved,” she said.
The Giaquintos said this may be the start of a new family Christmas tradition.
About 250 people, primarily men but some women with small children, came to the lunch following a service at Haven of Rest’s chapel.
Scott Pallo, a program resident, said the volunteers were doing a great job.
“I feel blessed to be here,” he said.
Tracy Ware, 52, called the meal “wonderful.” The Akron resident said he was struggling to find a job and to fix up a home that he had inherited. He said he was investigating getting a commercial truck driver’s license and with the aim of getting a job driving for an oil company.
“I have faith,” Ware said. “I’m just going through the flux of life.”
The Rev. Jeff Kaiser, Haven of Rest Ministries executive director, said his staff started serving breakfast at 7 a.m. In addition to the 60 volunteers who helped with lunch, another group of 60 volunteers was scheduled to serve dinner.
“We couldn’t do this on our own,” Kaiser said, noting that 700 volunteers help Haven of Rest each year. “Volunteers are very important to our organization.”
Among the longtime volunteers serving lunch was New Franklin resident Charlie Colitre, who has been helping out for 22 years.
“I just think it’s a nice thing to do,” Colitre said. “It’s just a nice way to give back to people who don’t have what we have.”
Colitre said he has encouraged his two daughters to volunteer as well, one of whom joined him to pass out beverages.
“It’s nice to give back to the community. I try to instill that in my daughters,” Colitre said.
Kaiser said the services provided by Haven of Rest are needed now more than ever with an increasing number of people hurt by job loss as well as more traditional clients impacted by addictions or getting on their feet after being released from prison.
“The economy has affected a lot of people,” Kaiser said. “It has been a long haul since 2007, 2008.”
About 230 people sleep at Haven of Rest each night, Kaiser said.
“We’re very blessed,” Kaiser said. “We’re thankful we’re here.”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.