A warm meal and gifts wrapped in bows awaited dozens of homeless youths last weekend in downtown Denver.
The annual Christmas party held at a Knights of Columbus Hall in Denver by the Denver Homeless Ministry gave destitute teenagers and young adults a glimpse of joy and hope.
“I think it brings us all together,” said 22-year-old Michael Smith. “I spent the last couple of holidays by myself. I was walking around aimlessly.”
Others said they, too, enjoyed the time spent with family and friends.
“I like having dinner with my family,” said Lashella Shelton, 20, of her husband and two children. “It doesn’t happen very often.”
Tanya Cangelosi founded the ministry to bring the love of Christ to those living on the streets, many who’ve experienced abuse and grew-up in dysfunctional families. This is the fourth year she’s held the Christmas party.
“I want them to experience what we experience at banquets, prom nights and Christmas,” said Cangelosi of Holy Protection of the Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church in Denver.
Volunteers from Denver and as far as Steamboat Springs volunteered to serve meals and distribute presents during the party Dec. 14 near 15th and Grant streets.
Father Michael O’Loughlin of Holy Protection and Father Chris Uhl of Holy Ghost Church in Denver called out names and handed presents to the group.
“It’s a nice event and perfect time to show generosity,” Father Uhl said. “They need love. Everybody needs love.”
After eating dinner, the youths shared laughter and posed for photographs near the Christmas tree.
Several shared thoughts on how they’ve made it through months or years of homelessness.
“I try to keep it positive,” said Marcus Hulum, 23. “As long as you know you can find a place to sleep and wake up in the morning, then it’s another chance to make it better.”
Some said their faith in God carries them through the struggles living on the street.
“If it wasn’t for my faith in God, I couldn’t have been homeless for eight years,” said Shane Reid, 31.
David Baker, 25, said he learned about God from his grandmother who raised him after his parents “gave up on me.”
After his grandmother, Candy, died from cancer at 58 years old, he became homeless, he said.
“I’m not going to lie, I thought about quitting my faith,” Baker said after her death. “This is one of the first Christmases I’m not in jail.”
But Baker said he continues to read Scripture and works at his faith.
“I just put my trust in the Lord,” he said.