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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Sister Sanga, left front, and Wogai Mohmand volunteer with United in Service for Humanity to prepare dinner.

SALT LAKE CITY — As people ordered their Labor Day dinner from menus beneath strands of light at the Gateway mall, families down on their luck chatted in a hallway across the street, waiting for volunteers to serve them theirs.

The kitchen in the family complex of the Road Home is the site for such volunteer-led meals about twice a week. The rest of the time, families at the shelter use the half dozen stoves and half dozen refrigerators to make their own meals.

"We try and have these meals as much as possible," said Ashley Farmer, volunteer coordinator at the Road Home. "Especially as we're getting closer to the holiday season."

The service meals make a big difference to the parents and children, some of whom are saving up to move into apartments. It can mean one less expense and put them one step closer to getting in a more permanent situation.

Rachel and Chris Watson are among them. The couple moved to Salt Lake from Oklahoma in July, Chris Watson said, but plans fell through and they found themselves without a place to live. They're staying with their son at the shelter as they save up cash to move out and back to Oklahoma.

"Were trying to do it on our own," he said. By the end of the month, they should have enough money saved to make the journey home, he said. "We're almost out of here."

Monday's meals — baked chicken, pizza, Caesar salad and cupcakes — were provided by United in Service for Humanity, a local group that got its start at the University of Utah. Wagma Mohmand, founder of the organization, said she and some friends started the group after they graduated from college and felt disconnected from their neighbors.

"We felt like we weren't as involved in the community because we weren't in school," the University of Utah graduate said. Mohmand is studying at the U. to become a physician's assistant.

Since it was formed in 2009, United in Service for Humanity has held a health fair, a food drive, and served dinner twice previously at the Road Home. The group has volunteers from the Muslim community, as well as from refugee and Mormon circles.

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"We try to do as much as we can," she said. "We also make sure to work with other organizations from people in different cultures and religions."

Her group fed about 200 people Monday evening, Mohmand said. She hopes to soon have enough donations to provide meals for the estimated 350 men who stay in the men's portion of the shelter.

Farmer said November and December are the busiest times for volunteer-led meals, but they're needed throughout the entire year.

People interested in providing meals can contact the Road Home at 801-359-4142. Those interested in United in Service for Humanity can visit ushslc.blogspot.com.

Email: mfarmer@desnews.com Twitter: mollyfarmer