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Mission Possible

Midnight Mission Provides More Than Just Food to L.A.'s Needy. For Some, Mission Provides Second Chance at Life.

As part of the 2008 AFP annual Conference in L.A., AFP members have a chance to feed the homeless in one of the city's largest shelters

By Ken McCarthy

Fried chicken isn't normally considered a delicacy. But when the homeless men and women at the Midnight Mission shelter in Los Angeles recently found out that's what they'd be having for lunch their eyes lit up. Some of them were so excited, in fact, that they made a point of getting back in the serving line more than once.

Mai Lee, manager of volunteer programs at the Mission, said some members of the Boy Scouts of America who were helping to serve the meal were less than pleased. "Some people were upset because people kept getting back in line," she said. But that all changed, Lee said, when one of the homeless men pulled a few of the helpers aside to explain. "He told the boys that might be his only meal of the day," she said. "And he didn't know when he'd be getting his next meal."

The Midnight Mission is the largest non-religious private social service provider in the Los Angeles area. More than just a place for the homeless to get meals, Lee said the Mission provides shelter, clothing, personal hygiene needs and medical care to the needy in Los Angeles. It also employs the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in its case management areas.

Lee said sometimes people misunderstand and think that the homeless who show up at the Mission's doors are simply those with drug and alcohol addiction problems. "But it's not just one problem," she said. "These people often have problems with legal, financial and mental health issues as well. We're a life center."

As part of the 2008 annual conference for the Association for Financial Professionals in Los Angeles this month, attendees will have the opportunity to help out at the Mission for a few hours. And Lee said the experience will not allow for bystanders. "They'll be making sandwiches, serving the meals and cleaning up afterward. We expect that they'll roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty," she said.

Lee said the AFP members will likely spend about three hours serving 600-700 meals on a day that the homeless are not normally fed lunch at the Mission. She said Sunday is the one day each week that most of the Los Angeles shelters do not offer lunch because they don't have the capacity. AFP members will also get a tour of the facilities, and AFP will donate any of the conference's leftover food to the Mission.

The AFP Day will be cosponsored by Fidelity Charitable Services. Five representatives from Fidelity, eight AFP board members, and 35 AFP members are scheduled to participate.

Founded in 1914, the Midnight Mission offers a 14-month program in which the homeless have the opportunity to get their lives turns around, Lee said. She said there are no questions asked, and no one is turned away. The facility has about 275 beds but can also accommodate an additional 150-200 in emergency situations, Lee said.

Many volunteers who come to the mission for one-day events such as the AFP Day expect to find 'dirty' homeless men and women and are surprised when they see what the clients really look like, Lee said. "We all have prejudices, but what you find is that they are people like you and I," she said. "When you hear their stories and talk to them on a personal level you realize 'that could be me.' It's ok to give people a second chance."

Larry Adamson, president of the Midnight Mission, said the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority recently announced that there has been a 17% reduction in the number of homeless since 2005. At that time the homeless population was 88,345 and it is currently 73,000. "The high number of people who are still homeless demonstrates to all of us in Los Angeles why this needs to be an ongoing priority," he said. "We must continue to work toward a comprehensive and cooperative plan that ensures that no one is left on our streets. Our programs and services have been very effective with those we have been able to reach, but there are so many more that need assistance."

And volunteers are critical to that effort, Lee said. In addition to aiding in areas where the staff can't meet its coverage goals, volunteers get a chance to see first-hand what the community's needs are. The mission also provides an opportunity for those in the community to give back. "Los Angeles is so fragmented," she said. "We all spend so much time in our cars each day. We want this to be a place where people can see what the community is really all about."

Lee said she is hopeful that those who attend the AFP event at the Mission will take what they find and go back and make a difference in their own towns. She said she has no doubt that they will all be changed by the experience. "Providing someone with what could be their only meal of the day is a moving experience," she said. "They will all be inspired."

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