SLC Mission providing gifts, food, comfort for Utahns in need

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SALT LAKE CITY — Manuel Serna lived on the streets for six months and said he "wouldn't wish that life on anyone."

"I didn't like that kind of life," he said as he welcomed people to the Salt Lake City Mission on Saturday. The mission helped Serna get back on his feet after his marriage spoiled and the life he knew followed suit.

"I never expected it. I never thought I'd be deep in the bottom," he said. Serna, 67, had everything he wanted in California, and worked a lot of hours to provide for his family, but when his wife of 15 years kicked him out, she said they'd grown apart and the kids would have rather had him around more.

"I am far from a perfect man. I make mistakes every day, but I love everybody. I may not always like everybody, but I try to get along with everybody the best I know how," Serna said.

The mission was founded locally in 1993 to help homeless and poor become independent, productive members of society through a life centered in Jesus Christ, according to its website.

Serna said that although he was wary at first, it was worth a try and he was placed in a program that helps men like him make major lifestyle changes.

Pastor Joe Vazquez, assistant director at the mission, said they don't ask many questions of the people they serve, and they provide "things they need." The mission assists homeless people, but also the working poor with clothing, furniture and household items, blankets, food and other things, all of which is collected via donations.

"If you have to buy this stuff for your kids, you have to make a decision whether to skip housing or food or something important," Vazquez said. "Something like that could throw a family's budget out of whack when they're already struggling."

The mission helped more than 40,000 people last year, providing more than $2.5 million in vital goods and services. It is open on every major holiday and will shuttle people from various locations throughout the valley. It planned to give away 1,500 boxes of food to families in need on Saturday.

There shouldn't be people who go hungry. There shouldn't be people who go without. There shouldn't be kids without toys for Christmas. There just shouldn't.

–Pastor Joe Vazquez, SLC Mission

"In this country, we could clothe small nations with the things we throw away," Vazquez said. He said without the help, it is hard to say where people who need it would go.

"For some people, there are not a lot of places to turn for help where they feel safe," Vazquez said, adding that the mission is a Christian organization. "There shouldn't be people who go hungry. There shouldn't be people who go without. There shouldn't be kids without toys for Christmas. There just shouldn't."

On Saturday, various patrons, mostly single moms and their kids, were sifting through clothing and personal care items, as well as picking up a box of food to get them through the holidays, when stores are likely to be closed.

Giselle Aguilera, a student body officer at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School, was volunteering at the mission, handing out food.

"It's taught me to stay in school and always do what you can to help," she said, adding that it was eye-opening to see what some people don't have access to.

People visiting the mission in hope of obtaining help, Aguilera said, are "extremely appreciative."

"I used to be a very, very proud man," Serna said. "I used to fix everything myself. I didn't need anybody."

How you can help

The Salt Lake City Mission is always in need of whatever items people can give, including:

  • new or gently used toys
  • blankets
  • food
  • hygiene kits
  • cash donations

For more information about the mission, or to donate or volunteer, visit or call 801-355-6310.

Homelessness was a shock to him, but he understands how he got there. Serna plans to begin looking for work again soon, but spends time volunteering at the mission to help others find the recovery he has experienced there.

For more information about the mission, or to donate or volunteer, visit or call 801-355-6310.

The mission could still use whatever people can give, including new or gently used toys, blankets, food, hygiene kits and cash donations, and Vazquez said the need exists all year long.

"Only with community support can we reach so many people. Only by working together can we fight poverty and accomplish so much more," said Pastor Wayne Wilson, founder and executive director of the Salt Lake City Mission.

Just as it has for the past 21 years, the Salt Lake City Mission will be open all day on Christmas Day, serving warm meals to hundreds of hungry people. Wilson said many people don't realize that nothing else is open or available to the population the mission serves.

"For many of the region's most vulnerable men, women and children, we will provide the only Christmas meal they will enjoy," Vazquez. "We still need lots of help."


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Wendy Leonard


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