David White rode the rails and hitchhiked into Boise for a job that never materialized and landed in the Boise Rescue Mission.

But on Friday he got some cheery news from his sister in Syracuse, N.Y.: She is sending him a bus ticket so he can join her for the holidays.White joined 21 other homeless people at the El-Ada Community Action Agency who made free calls to family and friends, courtesy of the Cellular One phone company.

Bitterly cold weather was a common topic of the voices filling a small room in the agency's outreach office.

"How cold is it in New York?" White, 37, asked his sister, Terry. "It's zero. I'm in Idaho."

He told her he was given a sleeping bag and could sleep outside if temperatures were not too low.

White, who traveled the hard way from Wisconsin but hails from Tuscaloosa, Ala., explained later that Terry warned him about sleeping out of doors. "She knows I'm from the South."

Cellular One, one of Idaho's two cellular phone companies, provided two of the portable, cordless phones for free 10-minute phone calls.

"We offered this service to make it easy for people to reach loved ones they may not otherwise have had a chance to contact," said Todd Heiner, Cellular One's manager in Boise.

Added El-Ada housing program manager Ken Monroe: "The holiday season is an especially difficult time to be away from family and friends. Hearing their voices makes it a lot easier."

That was certainly true for Joe Canady, 26, a carpenter staying at the Rescue Mission while waiting for a pay check from a job he completed.

He called his mother in Nashville, Tenn., and exchanged the latest news with her. "She told me to tell all the homeless people in Boise, `Merry Christmas,' " he said.