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Holiday meal sweet at Rescue Mission
By Gary Massaro
Rocky Mountain News
Thursday, November 23, 2006


It wasn't the turkey dinner or even the dessert Wednesday at Denver Rescue Mission that had Leonard Loftin Jr. breaking loose with a half-moon smile. It was the free phone call that was sweeter to him than the pumpkin pie.

He called his father in Omaha.

"I hadn't talked to him in seven, eight years," Loftin said. "I'm stubborn."

A half-hour earlier, Loftin, 50, had sat at a table with four other guys in the dining room downstairs. He wasn't smiling. He wasn't eating much, either. And he looked angry.

Someone asked him how the food was.

"All right," he said.

"Just all right?"

"Yeah," he responded. "Just all right."

Then, when he was leaving, someone from Qwest asked if he wanted to make a free phone call. He said yeah, again.

What a transformation.

He's a big mound of a guy who was all of a sudden really light on his feet after the phone call. He was happy, talking like a kid who had just unwrapped a surprise gift.

"He tells me he loves and misses me," Loftin said. "I tell him the same thing. 'I love you' were his last words to me. I say, 'I love you, too, Dad.' This is the best Thanksgiving of my life - because I got to talk to my dad."

Denver Rescue Mission personnel figured on feeding 1,000 people. About 50 volunteers showed up to serve more than a ton of turkey and about a half-ton of potatoes - mashed and sweet.

Among the volunteers were Jan and John Boucher, of Arvada, and their 10-year-old son, Anthony.

"We're Christians seeking to serve Christ, recognizing the grace between Christ and us," John said. "We also come for the sake of our kids. We want them to be thankful, to reach out to the poor, the less fortunate, so they would be thankful for what they have."

Jan said she started 17 years ago with daughter Jaime, now 22 and away at college, because it's too simple to become selfish.

"It's not just me and what I want to do," she said. "I want this to teach my children and myself to focus on other people."

It worked for Anthony.

"I feel energized. I get a good feeling, like opening a present," he said.

Most of the diners were grateful, like Jeremiah Childs, 30, who for the last two months has been sleeping out - what some call it when they're living on the street.

"It's mostly a box - and a blanket," he said.

He carried his necessary belongings in a pack - an extra shirt, toothbrush, deodorant.

"My best Thanksgiving has probably been this," he said. "When you're down and out a little bit, when you're a little depressed, it's nice to know that people actually care. These people don't have to be here. These people don't have to do anything."

He accepted the offer of a free phone call, even though he has been estranged from his family for years. The number had been changed.

"But I have an address," he said. "So I can write a letter."

When Gary Massaro listens, people talk. massarog@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5271
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/news_columnists/article/0,1299,DRMN_86_5164834,00.html