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By the numbers
3: Holidays – Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving – on which the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission serves free dinners
7: Days it took to put together the food for Easter dinner
75: Volunteers who prepared and served food and cleaned up
100: People who could be seated at one time
200: Pounds of sweet potatoes used; pounds of white potatoes used
400: Pounds of green beans used
1,500: Slices of pies served
1,600: Meals served – half eat-in and half carry-out
Sources: Chris Richardson,
food preparation staff;
Lynne Isenbarger, volunteer coordinator; the Rev. Donovan Coley, president and chief executive officer, the Rescue Mission
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Velma Smith carries a pan of green beans as she volunteers at the Rescue Mission. A total of 1,600 meals were served free during the Easter dinner.

Rescue Mission meal a gathering of friends

Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Jenny Rowland, lower right, serves mashed potatoes and gravy to fellow volunteers at the Rescue Mission during its annual Easter dinner.

If you are spending Easter Sunday volunteering at the Rescue Mission’s free holiday dinner, chances are you are not alone.

You probably are surrounded by friends.

Take Troy Bowling, 51, of Fort Wayne who was getting ready to serve free dinners of ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans and pie to those in a line that stretched out the door by a little before noon.

“I came with my girlfriend. She’s the one who got me here,” says Bowling, a union operating engineer, standing alongside Julie Bennett, 47, of Liberty Mills.

“This was something I always wanted to do, you know, kind of a bucket list thing,” she says. “I started at Christmas, and now it’s Easter. My girlfriend’s, she is really active into this. She’s the one who got me involved.”

Bennett’s friend, Renea Peacock, 46, of Fort Wayne, an insurance agent, says she’s been helping out with Rescue Mission meals for seven years as a way of remembering her late mother.

“I always try to get my friends to come,” she says, standing by another friend and fellow volunteer, Terry Byer, 53, of Fort Wayne.

Byer used to be a resident at the mission, after a messy divorce and a physical disability all hit at about the same time, he says.

“It was Easter, and she (Peacock) came in as a volunteer, and I met her. We started talking, and we ended up as good friends,” the now-retired construction laborer says. “Now it’s three Easters later.”

“Now he comes to volunteer and help me in any way he can,” Peacock says.

Then there is David L. Jones of Fort Wayne, who would be with two of his friends, Steven Druart and Druart’s wife Joy of Fort Wayne – if only Steven were not laid up after having hip surgery.

“He came with me last Thanksgiving and he got hooked,” he says.

At 68, Jones shyly acknowledges that he might be the longest-tenured volunteer in attendance.

He says he has been volunteering on holidays for 28 years, after deciding one Thanksgiving he did not want “to eat a big meal and lay around all day like a beached whale.”

The semiretired owner of the Shaver & Pen Center in Fort Wayne, Jones says most volunteers come to the mission “by word of mouth” from friends – and then make a lot of new ones.

Many of the holiday dinner clients are people who may have once needed services provided by the mission but now return on holidays as a sort of reunion.

“Through the years, I met some nice people, and I’ve become friends with them. I know some will be here today,” he says.

Wearing a bright orange jean jacket as she greets attendees by the door, Peacock sees people she has met over the years about once every five minutes.

After leaning over to give one a hug, she says volunteering can be habit forming.

“I think once you do this, it’s going to become something you always want to do,” she says, adding that she also volunteers on Christmas and Thanksgiving and during the week the rest of the year.

“This is my family,” Peacock says. “This is my adopted family.”