A sprinkling of celebrities and political leaders were among the hundreds of volunteers at the Los Angeles Mission on Good Friday to participate in its annual Easter time feast for the homeless.
The mission expected to serve nearly 3,000 meals at the event, during which the entire block of Fifth Street between Wall and San Pedro streets was shut down, according to organizers.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a familiar face at the mission's charity events, scooped macaroni and cheese onto plates. Standing next to him was mission President Herbert L. Smith, who ladled out sweet potatoes.
"The good people of the Los Angeles Mission brought me out here," Villaraigosa said. "They're here 365 days a year ... celebrating the love of Jesus and helping people in need."
With the economic downturn gripping the nation, the number of people turning to the Los Angeles Mission for help has been on the rise, mission representatives said.
"There are lots of new faces on Skid Row," Smith said. "The economy is clearly having an impact. We are seeing more people and different types of people than we have in the past, including more families and people who are suffering economic dislocation."
Volunteers distributed 2,000 pairs of new shoes provided by etnies footwear and apparel, as well as thousands of Easter baskets stuffed with dolls, kites, action figures and other toys provided by toymaker JAKKS Pacific Inc.
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As part of an ancient tradition, volunteers washed the feet of the needy, recalling the Biblical story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples the night before his crucifixion.
Actor Terry Crews from various movies and the TV show "Everybody Hates Chris" said that as a youngster growing up in Flint, Michigan, he had benefited from programs like this.
"It's more than just a meal, it's more about the fellowship," he said.
Crews said it was his first time volunteering at the mission.
"It shows honor to your fellow man," he said of the mission's style of serving patrons, rather than having them stand in line for a buffet. "You know, everybody deserves to be served. Everybody deserves to be treated with respect," he said.
Actor Robert Giardina, who will appear with Christian Slater and Cuba Gooding Jr. in the soon-to-be-released action movie "Lies and Illusions," said he had volunteered at the mission in the past and had noticed an increase in the number of people seeking help.
"With the depression and everything that's happening in the world, it's difficult for everybody," Giardina said.
In another annual tradition today, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles worked together to provide more than 2,000 Easter baskets to homeless and abused children throughout the county.
"It's been a long-standing tradition within the Los Angeles labor movement and the United Way to give to those in the community who need it most," said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer for the labor federation.
More than $20,000 was raised by various unions representing various industries for the giveaway, according to the federation.