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Giving the gift of Thanksgiving

Thanks to volunteers,the Miami Rescue Missionwill feed hundreds of homeless and needy people this Thanksgiving.

BY RODOLFO ROMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
Four years ago, Keith Selby had a promising life in New Jersey with a home and a career as a mechanical engineer.

Then he had a drink — and it all eventually vanished.

“Once an addiction gets a hold of you, you are doomed,” said Selby, 58.

He relapsed into alcoholism after 20 years of sobriety.

Selby came to Miami last year hoping to find a new job — and ended up sleeping on the sidewalk.

A stranger pointed him to the Miami Rescue Mission. That is where Selby said he was able to start getting his life back on track.

He and about a thousand other homeless and needy people with similar stories will be celebrating Thanksgiving this week at the Miami Rescue Mission, 2020 NW First Ave.

On Saturday, more than 250 college and high school students, business professionals and residents came out to volunteer and donate food, clothes and money as part of a charity drive organized by Whilly Bermudez, who is running for a Florida House seat in 2010.

Selby graduated from the center’s regeneration program and credits the Miami Rescue Mission for changing his life.

“Sometimes you feel like you are alone,” Selby said. “To see 250 volunteers come out like this does your heart good.”

Selby said he now has several job interviews lined up.

Even before the center started to collect donations, more than 50 people and cars lined up on the streets waiting for the doors to open.

They came to drop off boxes and bags of clothes, bottled water, bread and canned foods.

Bermudez helped organize the event.

“This is a place where they evaluate your skills and try to get you a job,” said Bermudez, who said he helped collect around 2,000 donated items. “It’s a powerful place.”

The items collected will help feed more than 1,000 homeless and needy for the center’s annual Great Thanksgiving Banquet on Thursday. Organizers say Northwest First Avenue — between 20th and 21st streets — will be closed for a few hours.

This will allow tables and food to be set up. There also will be a makeshift barbershop.

Marilyn Brummitt, director of community development, said donations are needed now more than ever.

“It’s frustrating when you have more need and you have a little less coming in,” she said. “Right now, the community outpour is needed and very appreciative.”

The mission will also hold similar events at its Broward locations.

The Miami center currently houses 250 men, while the women and children’s center, which is two blocks away, has 16 women and 30 children.

The Miami Rescue Mission, founded in 1922, serves 1,000 people at its three campuses located in Miami, Hollywood and Pompano.

The Christian faith-based center also offers several programs to help the homeless find work.

But the center has had to convert offices into rooms because of an influx of homeless, Brummitt said.

“More people are coming in because of the financial times,” she said. “We are seeing a new homelessness.”

Miami Lakes Educational Center student Laura Montoya, 15, took a break from hitting the books to lend a hand.

“I feel good and satisfied helping these people,” she said.

Miami resident Claudia Castillo came to drop off a check.

“It feels awesome and I am glad to be able to do this,” Castillo said. “It makes you humble.”

Castillo was joined by her three children and nephew, who tagged along to learn about homelessness.

An emotional Selby said he hopes to soon be able to give back to those who have helped him.

Before he relapsed, he used to donate his time to local charities.

He said he hit bottom after he lost his business and home.

“I used to do this kind of stuff before, but now I am on the other side,” said Selby, who credits his 12-year-old daughter as his inspiration. “I want to get back to do it again.”

For information on the Miami Rescue Mission, visit www.miamirescuemission.com.

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