JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Sulzbacher Center received enough assistance this year to provide Christmas breakfast to about 500 people. Doors opened at 6 a.m. as volunteers spread holiday cheer while serving their community. Sulzbacher serves three meals every Christmas.
Support from donors also ensured homeless children had their very own stocking. Even Santa Claus made an appearance and handed out presents.
"Today is the culmination of our Christmas season here at the Sulzbacher Center, which has gone for about three weeks," said CEO Cindy Funkhouser.
The shelter was fully decorated with festive lights, Christmas trees and ornaments. The kitchen was also bustling with all the makings of a perfect holiday breakfast: eggs, waffles, bacon and coffee. Funkhouser told First Coast News the experience is almost new again for some people at the shelter.
"Folks were saying I haven't had a gift given to me in years," CEO Cindy Funkhouser said. "Some resemblance of a traditional Christmas morning and to know that there are people that care about them and that there are people here to help them."
This is exactly the reaction the shelter wants people to take away with them. The hope is the gesture will show Jacksonville's most vulnerable how to see the blessings in everything and renew their hope for a better future.
"We try to make sure that holidays, especially Christmas, are more special than any other day, so we go above and beyond," said Allison Vega, public relations and marketing manager for the Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless. "We just want a place for people to feel loved and to feel that even though they are at a homeless shelter or even though they may have gone through hard times that people still love and care about them."
Feels like someone cared
Sulzbacher resident Valerie Hall is one of the hundreds of people in Jacksonville who had nowhere else to go on Christmas morning. Countless volunteers and food donations ensured her holiday wasn't spent alone on the streets. Hall said the event meant "everything" to her.
"(This) makes me feel like Christmas. Makes me feel like someone cared. Somebody took the time out to make sure I had a great Christmas morning," said Sulzbacher resident Valerie Hall. "What they did for us, they make you seem as though you weren't in a shelter."
Thankful for overcoming addiction
Dannita Jones, 47, has been sober from her addiction for a year and seven months. Even after deciding to get clean, Jones fell on hard times again.
"Even though I lost everything, I was living in my car and just really homeless, I didn't pick up, and for that I'm grateful," said Jones.
Jones said her life has changed after moving into the Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless four months ago.
"Everybody just gave love and allowed me to continue to have hope so the opportunities are here if you have your mind set up on what you want to do," Jones explained.
Jones is going through the required steps in the program before looking for a job; she volunteers in the kitchen daily.
Military veteran in need of a good home
The center is filled with Christmas spirit, a much needed ingredient for single mom and Army veteran Amy Delellis and her 7-year-old son. Delellis moved in a month ago.
"I was really nervous to come in here. It's not something I expected, but upon coming here I'm really grateful that I have everybody here that is so welcoming," said Delellis.
Delellis explained she's on track to move into new housing and is still looking for a job. The struggle is giving Christmas a new meaning this year.
"Enjoying each other, our time together, and just being thankful for everything that we have. We are just blessed and we are very lucky," added Delellis.
The center is filled with holiday spirit with decorated Christmas trees and the children who live at the center will be filled with joy when they see all of the gifts Santa Sulzbacher has gathered. Dillon Delellis just moved into the center with his mom a month ago and just like any other child, he's looking forward to one thing.
"To open my gifts," said Dillon.
There will be gifts for everyone. Since October, the center has been gathering items to hand out a stuffed stocking to each resident.
For more information, about the Sulzbacher Center click here.
First Coast News