MESA, AZ — It's part of their mission at St. Vincent de Paul to make sure everyone is fed during the holidays. They're the largest charity provider of hot meals in the valley serving 4,500 people daily.
The Mesa Dining Room was packed on Christmas Eve with around 20 volunteers serving hundreds of those that are homeless and in need.
COVID safety protocols are in place, so people are required to wear a mask and are kept at a social distance.
People could either dine in or take their meal to go for Christmas Eve.
The Taco Spot mobile food truck served free meals outside as well.
Homeless veteran Byron Paladin says St. Vincent de Paul helped save his life.
"It's family," he said.
Paladin moved to Mesa this past summer looking to connect with a long-lost brother, also a veteran and in need of special medical care.
"I hadn't seen him in 47 years," he said.
Paladin eventually found his brother but soon after lost his maintenance job and fell on hard times. And it wasn't long before he found himself homeless.
Paladin started using the services at St. Vincent de Paul finding food and shelter but also finding a purpose.
"Even though I'm on the streets, I volunteer here six days a week," he said.
And because he knows first-hand what the struggle is like to be homeless, he says it helps him serve others in the same situation, especially around the holidays when things can get stressful for those without loved ones.
"For the homeless, they don't have that to turn to, they don't have the family to turn to most of the time," he said.
The people at St. Vincent de Paul have become his family, he said, just when he needed it the most.
"It shifted my attitude, my perspective 180 degrees," Paladin said. "I was lethargic, I was apathetic, I'm not that anymore. I get to use my heart," he said.
That giving spirit is shining through in all the holiday volunteers, including the 20 or so helping to serve the hot meals in Mesa.
“Even if it's just a couple of glasses of chocolate milk, it really feels like you're making a difference in helping out,” said volunteer Katia Jones.
Mesa Dining Manager, Christel Armstrong says with all that's going on in the world, the need for services is at an all-time high.
"It's just getting greater and greater," Armstrong said. "I'm seeing new types of homelessness in the valley right now," she said.
Armstrong says the Mesa location is meant to be a safe place for people to put down their daily burdens, even if it is just for a little while.
"Just come sit with us, eat with us, talk with us. If you have anything going on in your life that is just not where you need it to be, please we have an open door policy to talk about those things here at St. Vincent de Paul to get you what you need," she said.
This meal and loving atmosphere feeds the mind, body, and soul of many.
"It stabilizes me completely," Paladin said.
"I don't know what I'd do without it right now, I really don't," he said. "I can accomplish things I want to do, I need to do, here, where I can't do it out on the streets by myself."
Armstrong says they also have around 100 toys still remaining for families with children in need. She says they can stop by the Mesa location on Christmas Day between 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m
"If you don't have anything for your little ones, and you're right here in the heart of Mesa, please come see us," she said.