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Holiday lunch gives gift to volunteers, too

Annual event at Good News at Noon draws crowds, goodwill

POSTED: January 6, 2008 5:03 a.m.
At noon, the good news is that volunteers come to serve lunch.

And no one even asks them to come.

Gene Beckstein, founder of Good News at Noon, said the organization never asks for food, money or volunteers. They just come.

"I don't know the volunteers, they just come in," Beckstein said.

For some, volunteering at the Davis Street outreach center is a Christmas tradition.

Brandon Bickford, an engineer from Canton, said he and his mother have served Christmas meals at Good News for the past four years.

"It's great, I love it," Bickford said. "Christmas is planned around this."

Bickford scooped peaches while Isabel Mondragon of
Gainesville served cake.

Mondragon has volunteered at Good News at Noon for seven years. Originally from Mexico, Mondragon comes to the shelter every morning at 9:30 to help cook and serve the day's meals.

"It feels really good," Mondragon said through a translator. "I like very much to be here."

Julia Bishop volunteered at the shelter for the first time Tuesday. Bishop, of Washington, is in Gainesville taking care of her mother.

Sad and disappointed that she could not be in Washington to give her husband and two daughters their Christmas presents, Bishop searched the phone book for another way to give.

"It makes my problems look like nothing when I come here," Bishop said. "It puts it all in perspective. We've lost so much perspective in America."

Bishop, a full-time mother, teared up as she spoke of the people she had met and served at the shelter.

"Most of them live on the street," she said. "Nobody shows them any dignity, and they're the same as we are."

Beckstein estimates that Good News at Noon serves about 40,000 meals a year. In the first hour of Christmas lunch Tuesday, the volunteers served nearly 100 people who came in from 40-degree weather and the rain.

Beckstein said the organization would continue serving Christmas dinner as long as there was food to serve.

"We never run out of food," Beckstein said. "We give away about 6,000 to 7,000 pounds of food every Thursday night."
Beckstein was once homeless himself. He started Good News at Noon after recovering from alcoholism.

"I understand most of these guys have a drug problem or an alcohol problem," he said.

As people sang Christian songs and nearly 100 people ate their Christmas meals, Beckstein told how he tried unsuccessfully to get sober five times before finding God.

"The Lord, he just dried me up, that's all," Beckstein said. "I turned my life over to the Lord."

Now, he has been sober for nearly 50 years and he has run Good News at Noon for the past 20. The organization now has a homeless shelter and an after-school program.

"We've got about 75 kids that come after school that do their homework," Beckstein said. "They really come to get their evening meal."




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