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Glide Memorial Church Draws Thousands to Christmas Day Celebration, Meal in SF Tenderloin

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Gospel singers in bright fuchsia robes belted out "Go Tell It On the Mountain," a video from late Glide Memorial Church cofounder Janice Mirikitani aired and thousands of people enjoyed fellowship and a free meal at Glide's annual Christmas Day event Saturday.

On Christmas morning, volunteers helped provide 600 breakfast meals which was followed by a virtual celebration live-streamed on Facebook. Afterward, festive meals including ham, turkey with all the fixings were served from late morning into the afternoon. People ate together in tents set up as a COVID-19 precaution along Ellis Street in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. The event has been held every year since the mid-1980s.

"The pandemic has hit us all hard but it has certainly hit our community the worst," said George Gundry, director of the daily free-meals program at GLIDE Foundation. "This is always a special day for them. The holidays in general are special here at Glide but Christmas and Christmas Eve are truly special days for the community."

"It's better than opening up presents! This is a gift that keeps on giving," said Scott Roberts, one of the volunteers who, with his family, was helping prepare the Christmas feast.

Glide Memorial Meal in S.F. Tenderloin Neighborhood Dec. 25, 2021
(Courtesy Glide Memorial Church)

This year's holiday season is the first for the foundation since the passing of founder Janice Mirikitani, who died in July. Mirikitani founded the organization and Glide Memorial Church along with her husband, the Rev. Cecil Williams.

"(COVID-19) has brought us closer together," said Glide Minister of Celebration Marvin K. White during the online celebration. "This room is filled with so many ancestors, so much love."

The minister urged the online and in-person audience to "think about what the radical meaning of Christmas is to you." Wide spaces between the people in the church's pews visible in the video attested to the care taken by the church to ensure social distancing.

During the virtual event, the Glide Ensemble gospel choir sang holiday and gospel standards including "Silent Night" and "Joyful Joyful." The choir performed before a backdrop of photos of Mirikitani and a video she recorded before her death was part of the online presentation.

Food was served after the celebration.

"Our volunteers are really special people, they're very dedicated, many of them have been coming here for years," Gundry told KPIX on Saturday. "The community is hopeful, the community is hanging together and looking out for each other."

Glide Memorial Church opened in the city in the 1960s. The church provides social services and free meals to homeless and low-income people in the Bay Area.

© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. KPIX 5's Shawn Chitnis and Bay City News contributed to this report

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