SAN DIEGO — The holiday spirit was alive and well at Father Joe's Villages on Thursday.
Even though the celebration looked a lot different this year because of the pandemic, hundreds of people experiencing homelessness were still able to enjoy a Christmas Eve meal.
The event began with a prayer by Deacon Jim Vargas, President and CEO of Father Joe's Villages.
"People are hurting out there," he said. "It's all age groups. We've seen an increase in families out there, and with children it always breaks my heart."
Instead of a sit-down meal served by an army of volunteers, Deacon Vargas said they packed up and handed out more than 500 to-go Christmas Eve dinners complete with turkey and all the fixings.
"We're meeting the need in a different way because of the circumstances, but the need is being met. We're not going to let the pandemic squash Christmas for us," he said.
According to the San Diego Hunger Coalition, 1 in 7 San Diegans are experiencing food insecurity.
Deacon Vargas said they've increased their community meal outreach program from serving just lunch to serving all three meals a day. They've even expanded it to other parts of the community
"We can't as a community see people suffering on the street and not do anything about it," he said. "When a community is responsive to the most vulnerable, it speaks to that community about how strong it is and how much they care for human life."
Volunteers also handed out care packages with hand sanitizer, socks and masks.
He said the gratitude he sees in people's eyes and on their faces is a reminder of how important it is to connect with others during this holiday season.
Just a meal and a smile can make all the difference.
"Not only to fill their tummies in a sense, but also to fill their hearts," he said. "And more than anything we want them to know we care for them."