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Mission group serves holiday meal on Atlanta Highway

POSTED: November 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.

A long line forms Saturday morning in the parking lot of La Flor de Jalisco as people line up for a free hot meal as part of the annual Thanksgiving dinner organized by the Latin American Missionary Program.

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They lined up in the cold in the parking lot of an Atlanta Highway supermarket Saturday for a hot meal — immigrants who came to Gainesville for work and now find themselves in need.

The depth of the economic crisis is evident in this predominately Hispanic area of town, where many construction and landscaping jobs that put food on the table for families have dried up.

And while Thanksgiving is not celebrated in the Latin American countries where these immigrants were born, the free food shared by a local ministry on Saturday was appreciated.

“This is a time to express to them that somebody cares,” said Mary Mauricio, co-founder of the Latin American Missionary Program, which organized Saturday’s Thanksgiving meal.

The numbers of those partaking in the free meal have grown along with the unemployment rate. Last year, 250 people were fed, and volunteers expected more this year.

Saul Reyes, a pastor with the Hispanic Assembly of God in Murrayville, said unemployment has gone up as much as 50 percent among day laborers who came to Georgia when the economy was booming.

“I have gone to visit people in their mobile homes and they have nothing to eat,” Reyes, a native of El Salvador, said through an interpreter. “Their cupboards are bare. They appreciate this, because they are often afraid to seek help.”

Mike Gaines, pastor of Murrayville Congregational Holiness, ladled out vegetable beef soup donated by his church. Though its 45 members have few connections to the Hispanic community, they jumped at the chance to help, he said.

“The Bible speaks of ‘who so ever will,’” Gaines said. “There’s no boundaries between Latinos and us. We’re all the same.”

Mauricio stressed that LAMP ministries is not focused only on helping Latinos, but lends a hand to all ethnic groups. One of its main missions is reaching out to teen drop-outs and young unwed mothers.

At Saturday’s meal, volunteers served soup, fried chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, corn, rice and gravy, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce and deserts. But no turkey. It wasn’t as if it would be missed.

While Christmas is global, many of Gainesville’s immigrants never heard of Thanksgiving — a strictly American holiday — until arriving in the United States, Reyes said. For many, the first they heard of Thanksgiving was when they got a day off from work.

“It’s not strange to them now,” Reyes said. “We have adopted the traditions for ourselves, and like it.”


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