Over 200 faith-based ministries affiliated with the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) served the homeless and the needy across the nation this Christmas as they have done in past years.
This year, however, witnessed increased numbers in many cities, including Fort Wayne, Ind., where the number of people served nearly quadrupled this year.
"Because of the impact of the economy, homelessness is on the rise," Donovan Coley, senior pastor of the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission, told local news station WANE-TV.
"We see individuals who aren't homeless, but they're just having a hard time making ends meet. And so that number has also increased," he added.
In Utica, N.Y., more than 200 volunteers served Christmas Day dinner to around 400 people at the Utica Rescue Mission.
In Springfield, Mass., volunteers cooked and served Christmas Eve dinner for more than 200 homeless and needy people at the Springfield Rescue Mission.
And in Jacksonville, Fla., more than 500 people had fuller stomachs thanks to the City Rescue Mission's annual Christmas Day meal.
The organization told First Coast News that the meal is just one way of giving those in need hope and joy, even in their most difficult moments. In addition to the hot meal, the rescue mission also handed out "boxes of love."
Among the largest crowds served this week were the thousands who showed up for the Christmas meal Wednesday at the Gospel Rescue Mission in Tucson, Ariz.
With the help of nearly 400 volunteers, the rescue mission served up more than 3,600 turkey dinners and another 2,500 hot dogs for children during this year's annual event.
Pastor Roy E. Tullgren III, executive director of Tucson Gospel Rescue Mission, told the Arizona Daily Star that attendance at this year's event was up about 25 percent from the 2008 banquet.
"On the one hand, it's good we had the food to feed the people and toys to give out," he said. "On the other hand, it's very hard to see the state of affairs in terms of the economy and people needing help."
So while many businesses and non-profits quiet down this time of the year, rescue missions across the country have been firing up their kitchens and working tirelessly to spread Christmas cheer with the help of volunteers and community donations.
Aside from outreaches on the days leading up to Christmas, some rescue missions, such as the one in Panama City, say they will be serving meals throughout the weekend.
"It's a time of hope when we can give everybody hope and encourage them to move into the New Year on a brighter note," commented Ron Willoughby, director of Springfield Rescue Mission, which has also been giving out toys to the parents of children in need.
Every year, faith-based ministries that are members of Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) serve approximately 42 million meals, provide more than 15 million nights of lodging, distribute more than 27 million pieces of clothing, bandage the wounds of hundreds of abuse victims, and graduate 18,000-plus homeless men and women from addiction recovery programs into productive living.
Founded in 1913, the Colorado Springs-based AGRM is North America's oldest and largest network of independent crisis shelters and rehabilitation centers, offering "radical hospitality in the name of Jesus."
With approximately 275 member missions, AGRM "exists to proclaim the passion of Jesus toward the hungry, homeless, abused and addicted, and to accelerate quality and effectiveness in member missions."