Th first thing you will notice is that you cannot buy a ticket. That’s right, but you can sponsor a table at the moderate price of $360 for a table of eight. This year 30 tables were sponsored by generous individuals, businesses and churches, who wanted to ensure that each person God was calling to get involved with the needy had a place to sit and listen.
The second thing: you cannot invite yourself to come. However, you can invite yourself and seven friends thus promoting yourself to the enviable position of a table host. The only guideline is that you invite people who are not already connected with the Redwood Gospel Mission but who have a heart for homeless, addicted, and needy people.
And the food! Succulent short ribs in a red wine reduction with glazed baby carrots and creamy garlic mashed potatoes, a generous portion of salmon with rich hollandaise sauce accompanied by beautiful green asparagus and roasted baby red potatoes, and finally the gourmet vegetable marinara sauce over golden polenta wedges with asparagus al dente. For dessert, layers of vanilla pudding, whipped cream and graham crackers topped with chocolate sauce and more whipped cream, were chilled for hours so the graham cracker layer softened into a delicious faux pastry.
The Mission offers culinary training to the men in their New Life recovery program so they can secure a career with a future. Several of the men who have graduated over the last couple of years are now working Chefs in the food industry. These alumni, along with other volunteer chefs, current students in the culinary program, and Chris Keys, the Kitchen Manager at the Mission, join forces to prepare food all day long, for serving that night.
During the day as volunteers came to help with setting up the tables, their stomachs would growl over the smell of homemade marinara or the wine reduction sauce for the short ribs. One of the program grads who was helping with sound and video said, “You know a chef has some mad skills when simple carrots taste so good!” Daniel Cohen continued to rave, “I had a chance to try the dessert and I am certain they are eating that in heaven!”
Another thing that is unique about this banquet is that many of the usual contracted or purchased services are donated by willing and helpful volunteers. Over 30 servers are needed to get the meals out to the almost 400 dinner guests, and they came from key clubs and businesses in addition to church groups.
The 49 fresh flower arrangements were expertly arranged by women from Manna Home, the women’s recovery program, and several women volunteers who have helped with flowers at other Mission events. Don’t forget the good friends at ALSCO who donated the linens because they have employed Mission graduates over the years and understand that God is doing great things in the New Life Program.
So instead of professional speakers, the Redwood Gospel Mission has graduates with years of success return and share their “road to real change” experience in order to help guests visualize how greatly their lives have been transformed. Also long-term volunteers give testimony to how much their lives have been affected and not just the lives of those they serve.
Gene and June Wood are some of those volunteers. Their involvement spans a couple of decades and now June helps in the office 2 days per week while Gene repairs things in his “shop area”; things that still have hope of being sold in the Thrift Store or used in ministry. Recently, Gene added forklift drivers’ training to his schedule and now men and women in recovery can graduate with Forklift Certification.
“Volunteering at the Mission has brought us closer than anything else we’ve done together in our marriage.” Gene confesses to the group at the banquet. June nods.
Is there a “pledge appeal”? Yes, but it is also a bit different. Throughout the night the speakers have spoken of five ways they are involved with the Mission: Giving, Serving, Praying, Learning, and Connecting. Each person is asked to discern if God is stirring their heart to make a commitment in one of those areas. If so, they are encouraged to take the commitment card and note their preference and desire. In addition, there are tables all around the room with ideas and activities to fulfill those desires whether it’s a one-time, monthly or weekly basis.
At the end of the evening, each person has been introduced to an ex-addict or homeless person, an energized volunteer, and ministry opportunities that anyone can do. As guests collect their purses and jackets, you can hear a few saying, “Next year I’m going to host a table…”
Now that’s the kind of banquet that people want to attend!
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Founded in 1963, the Redwood Gospel Mission mobilizes our community to minister to the needy so lives are transformed. Groups/individuals can design meaningful opportunities to serve. Emergency Shelters, Residential Recovery, a Thrift Store, and Events.