Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Bertha Gomez, left, and Sandra Samson serve lunch at the Salt Lake City Mission's Labor Day Picnic in Pioneer Park Monday.

As rain drizzled overhead, the aroma of sizzling hot dogs wafted from the grill, teasing the appetites of picnickers waiting in line.

But this was not an ordinary Labor Day picnic in the park.

It was the Salt Lake City Mission's 15th annual Labor Day Outreach at Pioneer Park.

By Monday evening, up to 2,000 hungry people, most of whom are homeless, had been fed with hot dogs, chicken, beans, nachos and fruit. The picnic began at 8 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m.

Volunteers covered in transparent plastic raincoats ducked their heads down into their collars as the wind blew a spray of rain under the tent. The temperature dropped low enough so their breath misted in the air. But the volunteers kept ladling food as people moved steadily through the line.

"I just love seeing the peoples' faces and how happy they are. It makes me feel good to help someone in a small way," said volunteer Sandra Samson, 60, of Sandy.

Volunteer Don Bonnema, a retired man living in Holladay, said it's good for people to get outside of themselves.

"We're all in a fever pitch just doing our own thing," he said. "What about serving other people and helping them out?"

"Amazing Grace" and other inspirational songs were piped from speakers under a tent. Monica Wilson,

a mission member, also sang to entertain the picnickers.

The Salt Lake City Mission is a nondenominational Christian church. Along with providing food and clothing to homeless people, the ultimate goal is to have them go into one of the mission's long-term programs.

There is the local men's home and a 1,700-acre ranch in the west desert. There the homeless people enter a program that brings them closer to God while they get back on their feet physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Participants at the ranch work with animals and crops for six hours a day. The rest of the time they join in religious studies and life skills classes. They work on resumes, get caught up on taxes and work on becoming self-sufficient. Some, upon graduation, stay on to work as mentors.

"A meal for a day is just a Band-Aid. They have a nice time, but they go back to what they are doing. We also give them an opportunity," said Philip Arena, development director for the mission.

The mission offers an outreach activity for each holiday. On the day before Thanksgiving, the mission has partnered with the Utah Jazz, and that event has been held at the EnergySolutions Arena.

"It's all about people," said Steve Bailey, program director for the mission. He said he has spent time being homeless while overcoming alcoholism.

"I decided that I don't want to do this no more," Bailey said. "It's stupid. So I gave my life to the Lord. Now I want to give back."

Many of the homeless people are employed, Arena said. "They don't make enough for rent — but a lot of them do work. Many do day-labor and earn money under the table," he said.

Shelley, 43, a homeless woman, says she has been living in her car. She would like to go to sleep at a shelter, but her dogs, Nan and Jackson, a pit bull and Yorkshire Terrier, aren't allowed.

Shelley has hope for a brighter future for her and her canine companions.

"I've been here before and got out of it," she said. She might travel to Tennessee with a friend before winter arrives.

David, 26, a homeless man, had his two-year-old daughter on his shoulders while his 4-year-old son trailed behind, as the food line wound between the trees.

David said he works as a cook. While he isn't going to enter the mission's program, he said he appreciated the food for him and his family on Monday.

"You Christians aren't too bad of people," he said.


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