by BOB DORAN
THANKSGIVING FLEW PAST LAST WEEK LIKE A WILD TURKEY skittering off into the woods -- December and its associated holidays are upon us. It's the time of year when we roll out clichés along with the yule logs, when we start using words like 'tis instead of it's or it is.
'Tis the season. The season for what? Whichever holiday we observe, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or the Winter Solstice, we're all likely to be doing the same sorts of things: lighting candles or strings of lights to shine in the darkness on these long nights; thinking about friends and family, and loved ones no longer with us; shopping hurriedly; giving (hopefully) to the less fortunate.
There are those who try to maintain a bah-humbug attitude, but it's not easy when faced with so much holiday cheer. Whether it's just the parties, anticipation of time off, or Santa coming to town, people seem to be nicer to each other at this time of year.
But there's also an expectation that comes with giving and receiving, an expectation that can breed desperation. Ask anyone in retail, and they'll tell you the next few weeks are crucial.
According to statistics gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau, retail sales in American department stores were 43 percent higher in December 2001 than in November of that year (and keep in mind that Christmas-related sales typically begin in November on the day after Thanksgiving). No other month-to-month increase in department store sales comes anywhere close. And it's not just retailers who are sweating. One of the stories in our holiday package, by Journal arts columnist Linda Mitchell, has to do with the importance of holiday sales to local artists. [Art Beat]
On the other side of the counter you have shoppers making their lists, checking them twice, then checking them against bank balances and maximum credit lines. And outside the store are people, plenty of them, with no money at all, or very little; some of them have children scratching out notes to Santa, too, you know.
That's where giving takes another turn. A number of community organizations collect toys for kids who might otherwise find an empty stocking Christmas morning -- among them, what might seem an unlikely group: motorcyclists. For more on that, see our interview with one of the organizers of the United Bikers annual Toy Run. There is also a piece on the Eureka Rescue Mission, which as you read these words is already preparing to stage another big holiday meal, just like the one they served on the day before Thanksgiving.
Christmas is also about celebration and, as always, there's a myriad of Humboldt holiday activities to choose from, including ballet performances, musical gatherings, even a parade of trucks and tractors festooned with lights. A special "Calendar" section covers the spectrum of holiday events.
So there you have it. Christmas time is here. Relax and maybe, for once, you really will feel joy and compassion. But if instead it's just the usual hectic struggle, keep this in mind: It'll all be over in a few weeks.
Photos above: Bon-Bons and
Flowers rehearse for the North Coast Dance presentation
by BOB DORAN
YOU PROBABLY WOULDN'T MISTAKE Dave Davis for Santa Claus: His beard isthe right length, but it's grey, not white. Still, the biker known as Dirty Dave embodies the spirit of Saint Nicholas. For more than a quarter century he has helped put local motorcycle organizations to work helping Santa gather toys for local children.
This Sunday, Dec. 7, he and scores of local bikers will ride together for the 29th Annual Humboldt County Toy Run presented by United Bikers of Northern California.
The local bikers group evolved out of a Modified Motorcycle Association chapter. "We ride for motorcyclists' rights," was how Davis explained the purpose of the group. "We started doing these toy runs `cause we hate kids so much,'" he added with a grin that let you know he meant the opposite. "It's a way for us to get together -- and to help out needy kids."
Toys can be dropped off at three motorcycle shops in Eureka: Redwood Harley-Davidson, 21 W. Fourth St.; Richard Miller Motorcycles, 1725 Tomlinson; and Eureka Motor Sport Center, 1610 Broadway. "Right now we've got folks running around gathering up toys. They have to be unwrapped so we can see what they are," he explained.
"Then on Sunday we'll gather at the Arcata Plaza. We try to get there starting at 9 o'clock to take up all the parking places around the plaza; then at high noon when the whistle goes off, someone from Arcata's volunteer police patrol leads our caravan around the square and out of Arcata."
The toy-laden motorcycle convoy will head out Samoa Boulevard to Manila, go down the peninsula and then across the bridge to the Veteran's Hall in Eureka. "It's the same route we've been riding for years. We go the same way for our annual Veteran's Day ride," said Davis. "Last year we had 256 bikes parked around the hall. We wrap them all around the building and across the street."
The toys are checked in by a local Boy Scout troop upstairs in the Vet's Hall. A party downstairs includes food and live music. Admission is one new toy, or $5 cash, all of which goes to the Eureka Rescue Mission.
"They give us hundreds of toys every year," said Mary McGill of the Rescue Mission. "We give out around a thousand toys every year to anywhere from 200 to 250 families and they are our biggest supplier of toys."
"Anyone is more than welcome to come to the party," Davis emphasized. "It's sponsored by motorcyclists but we have no prejudice towards any race, color, creed, sex or national origin, type of motorcycle you ride or if you ride a motorcycle at all. This is for the kids, that's what's important."
For more information about the toy run, call (707) 442-4469.
by HELEN SANDERSON
LEANING BACK AGAINST A WHITE WOODEN COLUMN IN THE dining hall of the Eureka Rescue Mission, Chaplain Steve Lorenz belts out a stirring rendition of "O Holy Night," accompanied by house manager Doug Garrett on piano, as the remaining stragglers finish their meals. Thanksgiving dinner -- served one day early -- is coming to a close.
The song about Christ's birth, and its passionate delivery by Lorenz, not only signals the beginning of the Christmas season, it serves as a testament to the uncompromising objective of Eureka's Rescue Mission -- to aid the poor through an unrelenting Christian faith-based program. In fact, from the moment you walk in from the dingy Second Street sidewalk, God's word is inescapable. Posters with verses from Genesis and Revelation adorn the walls, orange pocket Bibles are given to anyone who will accept one, dozens of audio cassettes with titles like "Leviticus Study No. 1" are stacked outside of the men's lounge, hymns reverberate through the halls. Next door, in a shelter for women and children that's run by the mission, a brightly painted mural of biblical scenes covers the stairwell. [Steve Lorenz, photo at right]
Business is booming at the mission, which has been aiding the homeless and hungry in Eureka for the past 37 years. The mission served 6,000 meals in October alone, but the holidays always mean a spike in meals served and beds occupied -- over Thanksgiving the mission was filled to capacity with 95 people. To cope with the crush, the mission works in tandem with another Old Town charity, St. Vincent de Paul's, which served its annual turkey spread on Thanksgiving Day, the following afternoon. The organizations will follow the same drill during Christmas, with the mission serving its feast on Christmas Eve and St. Vinny's dishing out the next day.
"It's best for us to work with other charities in the community," said Mary Magill, associate director of the mission. "That way our services don't overlap and the people who need the most, get the most out of what we can give."
And like the 433 people who filled their bellies there last Wednesday, the rescue mission, too, is reliant on what people can give.
In 1997 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Social Services, concerned about a blurring of the divide between church and state, stopped providing food to charitable organizations that required the needy to attend a religious service. Faced with the ultimatum, most shelters decided to drop the pre-dinner worship. Out of 164 "soup kitchens" in California faced with the decision, only seven charities told the government to keep the food if it meant losing their religion -- the Eureka Rescue Mission was one of them.
While their immovable beliefs put the mission in a financially tight spot, donations from citizens, churches and local organizations poured in, offsetting the loss of government funding. And the trend of community support has continued.
"We've been tremendously blessed," Lorenz said.
This season, 200 turkeys were given to the Eureka Rescue Mission; 105 were cooked for Wednesday's dinner. Forty of those birds came from the Pacific Lumber Co., one of the largest donors this Thanksgiving. The uneaten birds will be frozen until they are cooked Christmas Eve.
While the mission certainly offers a helping hand to those in need, it has a few stipulations tucked up its sleeve. For instance, those who want a meal and a place to stay for the evening are required to take a Breathalyzer test -- if they have been drinking, they don't eat. If you stay for more than 10 nights in one month, you're required to help with the chores in and around the mission. A group called the "God Squad" cleans up the streets of Old Town and washes windows for area businesses.
Speaking of cleaning up Old Town, Lorenz said arrests for public drunkenness in the shopping and entertainment hub have declined from what they once were, a trend Lorenz attributes to the mission's strict ban on alcohol use. Police Capt. Murl Harpham said he would have to do a computer analysis to say for sure, but that officers have told him that drunkenness is less of a problem in Old Town. (Citywide, however, arrests for public drunkenness are higher this year compared to the past, Harpham said.)
But it's the emphasis on religion that's most striking. Daily, before dinner and breakfast, a 45-minute Christian sermon is given by an area pastor. The staff at the mission believes that the religious message provides the destitute with spiritual nourishment, which they say is imperative to the success of the mission's services -- most notably its "New Life" program, a yearlong behavior modification course for men only.
Currently, 17 individuals are receiving instruction; most of them are battling alcohol or drug addiction. They attend religious studies, anger-management and life development classes. In exchange for room and board at the mission -- the former Bay Hotel, built at the turn of the century -- the men keep the mission clean and help serve the food.
"I've seen men graduate from the program and reconcile with their families, go back to school and work for God and the community," Lorenz said.
Men are not the mission's only clients. Thirty-four of their beds are reserved for women and children. Women are also expected to do their part in keeping the mission ship-shape and running; their quarters must remain clean, and some sort donations at the Rescue Mission Thrift Store, just a short walk away on Fourth Street. Also, the mission offers Bible study classes for women, although not as in-depth as the men's New Life program.
Since its inception five years ago, 20 men have "graduated" from that program.
What about non-Christians who want to change their lives?
"We're here to help anyone in need, that's first," Lorenz said. "People with alternative faiths may come to see that they're in error. We preach the Lord Jesus Christ and Him only."
Magill said that those who choose not to pray before their meals don't have to, but they are expected to sit through the entire sermon. Since the mission's chapel doubles as the dining room, it may be distracting for those just there for the meal to remain attentive to the church service when smells from the kitchen waft in from a few feet away.
In the future, temptation may not be so close. Mission officials recently purchased the empty lot on the corner of B and Second streets, where they plan to build a new chapel and living quarters, separate from the dining room and kitchen. The new building would also serve as the check-in area, which means that those waiting for a meal or a bed would no longer linger outside on Second Street; instead, they would be on the B Street side, farther away from retail shops.
"I know that it can be intimidating to see a bunch of homeless men hanging outside on the street, close to businesses," Magill said. "It will be better for everyone when we have a new building. The city has been responsive to our ideas."
But an expanded mission remains at least another two years away. Until then, beds will be made, prayers will be said, songs will be sung and meals served, just as they are every day at the Eureka Rescue Mission -- in God's name.
MUSIC & DANCE
County Christmas. 2 and 7:30 p.m., Dec. 6. 2 p.m., Dec.
7. Eureka High Auditorium, 1915 J St., Eureka. The Dancers Studio
and BRAVA! present a holiday celebration of music and dance,
a "live art project" sponsored by the Morris Graves
Foundation. $12 reserved, $8 general admission, $6 kids under
12. 443-4390. [photo at
right: Carrie Maschmeier and Linden Glavich in rehearsal]
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.