It's one of the few days where living quarters at the Union Gospel Mission transform into a full-service restaurant. Guests come to the downtown Sioux Falls shelter by the hundreds for a hot Christmas Day meal.
“It's always very special because you never know what is going to happen, who's going to come, whether there will 100 or 500 guests,” Union Gospel Mission Director Fran Stenberg said.
Stenberg planned for the event for months, he said watching it come together was fun, but not more than seeing the faces light up.
“It's great. A great holiday,” Adele Williams said, after she finished her meal. “It's cold outside. The food is well-cooked. We're enjoying it.”
This meal is all done by volunteers, who signed up to serve the more than 400 guests.
“That's pretty much what Christmas is about, man. It's not about receiving, it's about giving,” Carlos Preston said, who brought a co-worker to help serve the noon meal.
“We depend upon them to do that, but it's a special time even for the volunteers. They go away from here so humbled with what they have as well,” Stenberg said.
Guests also received gifts following the meal. There was something for everyone, including a toy land for children, who took their pick from the piles of toys gathered all year long.
“A lot don't know how to express that thankfulness, but they attempt it,” Stenberg said. “And that's part of building character of the people when they can come and say thank you.”
The shelter holds similar events at Thanksgiving and Easter and other special days throughout the year.