rescue mission
Volunteers help wrap and distribute toys to families in need with children each holiday season. (Courtesy The Rev. Kimberly Gaines-Gambino)

In 1965 in Huntington, a newlywed couple began feeding struggling families out of a space they rented on New York Avenue.

The Rev. Rose Marie Gaines and her husband the Rev. Jim Gaines fed 10 people that Thanksgiving and from there grew the community initiative, Helping Hand Rescue Mission. Fifty-six years later, the mission founders’ daughter, the Rev. Kimberly Gaines-Gambino, has taken over as president and expects to distribute food to more than 1,200 families this Thanksgiving.

“We’re looking forward to a great season of helping a lot of families,” Gaines-Gambino says. 

Year round, Helping Hand Rescue Mission runs a food and clothing pantry, also known as the Helping Hand Rescue Mission Community Closet, Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. It also holds a weekly Baby Blessings distribution program at a local church. Mothers in need stop by to get essentials, such as baby clothes, diapers, wipes, formula, strollers, cribs, and toys. The Mission receives donations from community members and through partnerships with organizations.

“We have appreciated so much, especially during these times that have been so challenging, the amazing support we have received from the community,” Gaines-Gambino says. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the help of people.”

Before the Covid pandemic, the Mission served about 90 people on average per week. At the pandemic’s height, volunteers served 500 or more people per week. Now, there are about 250 people seeking assistance weekly.

Recognizing that many families cannot afford presents around Christmastime, Helping Hand Rescue Mission holds a large toy drive in December. Volunteers wrap the new gifts and distribute bagsfull in a drive-through fashion to families. 

Other yearly events include the Mission’s Family Fall Fun Day, coat and backpack drives, and kids’ Easter celebration. In the past, the Mission held an annual Christmas party but has not returned to the event since the pandemic began. 

Helping Hand Rescue Mission has continued its Thanksgiving tradition of providing meals to families in need, but also in a different way since 2020. Community members now participate in “Fill a Box, Feed a Family,” in which they decorate and fill a box with food that registered families can pick up at a scheduled time and use for their Thanksgiving meals.

“Without even planning for it to be this way, it gives families an opportunity to come together to help another family,” Gaines-Gambino says. “The families we serve want to have Thanksgiving at home. To be able to cook and be with your family on the holidays is very special.”

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