Homeless Toledoans given free meal at St. Paul's Community Center

Chuck Hodge delivers a tray of dinners to hungry diners at St. Paul's Community Center on Christmas Eve.
Chuck Hodge delivers a tray of dinners to hungry diners at St. Paul's Community Center on Christmas Eve.

More than 100 homeless residents from the Toledo area celebrated Christmas Eve with a free meal, a gift-giving Santa Claus, and a season's greeting from Mayor Mike Bell.

The annual event, which was held at downtown Toledo's St. Paul's Community Center, is an opportunity to spread Christmas cheer among people who otherwise may not have a happy holiday. 

"Some of the people here may have a daily choice to make -- shelter or food," said Marcia Langenderfer, executive director of the center. "They won't have a Christmas. They won't receive a gift on Christmas Day."

Many of the people who arrived at the center carried small plastic bags filled with all their possessions. Some wore tattered coats and hats -- if they had any winter clothing.

The center provided a brief, but welcome respite from the hardships many of them are enduring.

PHOTO GALLERY: Christmas Eve at St. Paul's Community Center

Community volunteers passed out plates filled with sandwiches, a salad, and baked goods. Most of the homeless visitors sat together at large tables. Old acquaintances hugged and shared laughs.

"St. Paul's has helped me as lot," said 54-year-old Guspar Rodriquez, who until recently had been staying at the agency's onsite shelter. "I was homeless. But they helped me get back on my feet."

Mr. Rodriquez stayed at the shelter for three months, which enabled him to save enough so that he could afford his own apartment. They also helped him join an Alcoholics Anonymous group, which has helped him remain sober now for several months.

"Some people look down at you for staying at a shelter," said Mr. Rodriquez. "But, I looked at it as a place that allowed me to get my life back on track and get sober."

Mayor Bell's visit was greeted with applause and cheers of "Merry Christmas" from those gathered at the center. Mr. Bell briefly shook a few hands and waved before departing.

Mr. Bell said he attended the event because he wanted to show support for St. Paul's and let people to know that he cares about all Toledo residents.

His message to those gathered at the center: "Don't give up.

"(Homelessness) isn't just a Toledo thing, it's an national issue," said Mr. Bell. "The economy is starting to bounce back, but it's going to take time."

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.