In a neighborhood where front doors are often covered by iron bars and residents occasionally must choose between having electricity and buying groceries, receiving an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner can mean a lot.
"We weren't going to have a Thanksgiving this year. We can really use this," said Erma Landa, who, along with her 18-year-old son, is living without electricity in east Bakersfield's Old Town Kern.
On Tuesday, for the first time, residents of The Mission at Kern County fanned out into the surrounding streets to invite their neighbors to join them for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.
"I felt like we needed to reach out even more to our community of Old Town Kern," said Carlos Baldovinos, The Mission's executive director. "We wanted to find people who may not have a place to go on Thanksgiving."
Several residents of The Mission's year-long Christian Life Discipleship Program -- most are recovering addicts who hit rock-bottom before joining -- piled into a minivan Tuesday afternoon armed with colorful invitations. They parked on Kentucky Street, divided into teams and began knocking on doors.
Latasha Mollique, a 27-year-old who is attending the University of La Verne, opened the door to her modest apartment to find Jonatan Lopez and Brian Ridgeway politely inviting her to dinner on Thursday.
"I think it's awesome," she said, smiling. "I almost wish I wasn't cooking Thursday so I could go."
Mollique said last year she volunteered at The Mission as part of the university's community service requirements. And she came away impressed.
"I got to hear their stories," she said of the residents. "It's beautiful what they're doing."
Formed in the rubble of the great earthquakes that shook Bakersfield in the summer of 1952, The Mission celebrated its 60th anniversary last year.
A storage pantry and kitchen at the East 21st Street campus churns out breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the homeless and destitute, serving up to 700 meals per day.
The Thanksgiving meal, served between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., typically draws more than 300. But this year, organizers and scores of volunteers are planning on as many as 500 guests, including Mission neighbors.
"Homelessness affects the whole community," said Director of Church Relations Rod Tidwell, who works closely with those who have committed a full year of their lives to the discipleship program. Resident Rosie Galvan, 31, was accepted into the program last March.
"I didn't know God until I came to the program," she said.
Ten years of methamphetamine use had left her sick, broken, separated from her 15-year-old daughter and facing few good choices. Now she's working on earning a high school equivalency certificate, communicating regularly with her daughter and setting an example for newer residents.
Clean nearly 10 months, Galvan smiled as she headed out into the struggling neighborhood.
By helping others, the thinking goes, maybe she can help herself, too.
And that would be something to be thankful for.