Charlotte Rescue Mission provides family feel with Easter celebration

Kendrick Russell talks to his sister in Charleston, S.C., on a cellphone provided by Cricket Communications at the Charlotte Rescue Mission on Sunday.
Kendrick Russell talks to his sister in Charleston, S.C., on a cellphone provided by Cricket Communications at the Charlotte Rescue Mission on Sunday. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Connecting people with their loved ones on Easter has become a holiday tradition for Brad Cohen and his family.

For the past several years, Cohen and his daughter, Abby, have worked the cellphone station at the Charlotte Rescue Mission on Easter.

As part of the day-long Easter celebration, Cricket Wireless loaned cellphones to the nonprofit organization so that visitors could contact loved ones. Several cellphones were loaned out in 10-minute intervals over six hours, said Cohen.

“People are so appreciative of us being here,” said Cohen. “It’s great to give back.”

Charlotte Rescue Mission added the cellphone station 18 years ago, said the Rev. Tony Marciano, the mission’s executive director. When the program began, pay phones were still common and cellphones weren’t as widely used.

“This is a chance to connect them to their loved ones and say, ‘Hi. I’m doing OK,’” Marciano said.

On Sunday, Cohen and his daughter saw more than 75 people check out the phones each hour.

One of those individuals was Charles Newton. The 45-year-old, who had recently been working in Jacksonville, Fla., was trying to get back to his home in Huntington, W.Va.

Newton used his cellphone time to call a loved one and try to arrange transportation home. “They’re helping a lot of people today,” he said.

For Marciano, those moments are what Easter is all about: connecting people with family and helping them feel cared for and loved. “We want them to feel very safe, very comfortable and very welcome,” he said.

To that end, the Charlotte Rescue Mission, with the help of more than 250 volunteers, has established day-long celebrations for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Easter began with a warm breakfast at the organization’s headquarters on West First Street. Later in the day, the nonprofit served guests an Easter meal of turkey, ham, string beans and homemade desserts.

By day’s end, the organization had served more than 1,000 meals, said Marciano.

And Marciano emphasized the word “serve.” For both meals, volunteers dressed in white shirts and black pants and waited on guests by bringing meals to their cloth-covered round tables. Guests ate with fine china and silverware rather than plastic cutlery.

“We really want to show people the dignity and respect that maybe they haven’t seen in their lives before,” said Marciano. “It’s a chance for us to give it to them as a gift.”

The Charlotte Rescue Mission also provided entertainment throughout the day. “We try to make this an all-day event, like going to your grandparents’ house for Easter,” said Marciano.

To that end, the organization showed different movies in two rooms, to accommodate different tastes.

In one room, visitors watched movies such as “We are Marshall,” “Angels in the Outfield” and “Coach Carter.” In another room, residents watched movies such as “Forrest Gump,” “John Q,” “Radio” and “Barbershop.”

“We really want people to relax and enjoy the day,” he said. “We don’t want it to be, ‘Come, eat and leave.’ We want them to come and stay all day.”

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