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A Story of Hope

A testimony of a life that was changed for good.



Ventura County Rescue Mission holds annual holiday feast

Published in the Ventura County Star November 27, 2014

With almost military precision, more than 260 volunteers served 1,100 Thanksgiving meals at the Ventura County Rescue Mission’s annual holiday feast Wednesday in less than half an hour. But there were more people.

So Rescue Mission Executive Director John Saltee, who vowed to feed everyone who showed up, started directing some of the residents of the men’s program at the Oxnard site, where the meal was served, to set up more tables.

“We do this because we want to share Thanksgiving and because we want to share our Lord Jesus. We invited you because you are our neighbors,” Saltee said as he stood among dozens of rectangular tables with cloth coverings and fall-themed centerpieces in the alley behind the mission.

Jessica Turcott, of Oxnard, who was having dinner with daughter Aura Jones, 2, said she enjoys coming to the mission. “We’re here every year, three years in a row,” said Turcott, who had no plans for the Thanksgiving holiday. “The turkey here is the best, and they have a live band.”

In addition to the Kirkpatrick Family, performing music with a spiritual flavor, the Mission Angels, a group of about 23 children, sang under the direction of administrative assistant Cady Johnson.

After getting directions about serving sizes from chef Mike Lodi, Capt. Larry Vasquez, commanding officer of Naval Base Ventura County, said he and a group of fellow sailors have been enjoying serving holiday meals on the base and at the mission. 

“We want to give back and show our support for the community,” Vasquez said. “A lot of folks are still having a hard time.”

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said he’s been coming to help at the mission for the past six or seven years.

“This is what I expect to do at Thanksgiving. It’s a great lesson about giving back,” he said. “I look around and realize how lucky we are.”

Sandie Lykins, who was volunteering with her daughter Christina Lykins, both of Ventura, said she supports the mission, especially because the men’s program helped her son.

“The program is wonderful. It trains them and they can give to the community. It made him grow up,” she said.

Saltee explained that the mission’s goal is “to provide refuge, food, clothing and shelter for recovery through a 10-month program.”

The men in the mission’s culinary arts program cooked 500 turkeys this year that not only are served at the mission dinner but also are shipped to other churches and community centers where meals are distributed to the homeless, Saltee said.

There is an additional Lighthouse for Women and Children recovery program under the auspices of the mission, but at another location. The mission serves meals every day of the year, including lunch and dinner Mondays through Saturdays and dinner Sundays.

“We provide 330,000 meals a year,” said Saltee, who explained that the mission works as a distribution center for meals at pantries and kitchens across the Oxnard area.

Maria Tejada, of Oxnard, said she would be spending Thanksgiving with family members but on Wednesday was enjoying the meal at the mission.

“I come here every day. The food is great. But this is my first Thanksgiving,” said Tejada, introducing her adult children who also were enjoying the meal of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, rolls, peas and carrots.

Donna Verellen, of Oxnard, was blunt about her reasons for being at the meal. “I’m homeless. I want to eat, but I have no money,” said Verellen, who said she also is a regular at the mission’s meals.

Her friend Michelle Stevens was enthusiastic about the dinner. “It makes me feel like I’m back home,” said Stevens, who also had no Thanksgiving plans.