CUMBERLAND - With the holiday season upon us, people are decorating their homes, spending time with their families, and planning their holiday meals.

By Barbara High
bhigh@newstribune.info
Tribune Staff Writer
CUMBERLAND - With the holiday season upon us, people are decorating their homes, spending time with their families, and planning their holiday meals.
For many, however, there will be none of these things. No home to decorate or even to take shelter in from the cold. No family to spend the holidays with or even count on for support. For many their is no meal, and hunger has become an all too familiar feeling.
So many are desperate with no where to turn, not just during the holidays, but throughout the year.
What many don’t know, however, is that there is a place in the area that is there to help those who need it the most.
The Union Rescue Mission has been providing hot meals, a warm place to sleep, and a hand to hold and to help someone up since 1963..
The mission offers 62 regular beds and 22 cold weather beds, and serves three hot meals a day.
The mission provides 76,000 meals annually, aids over 200 individuals daily with food, shelter, clothing, or hygiene items, and gives away over 40,000 pounds of food from their food pantry a year.
They gave 18,000 bed nights of refuge to the homeless, 4,000 bed nights for children, and they also run an emergency cold weather shelter from November to April.
The mission doesn’t stop at just meals and shelter, either. They provide 550 food boxes for families so children can have food during the holiday break - whether they live in Allegany, Mineral, Garrett, Bedford or other surrounding counties.
The mission will provide a Thanksgiving meal to over 150 people this year who wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving without them.
They also have an after-school program for at risk youths, and a free medical clinic in conjunction with Western Maryland Health System, for those who can’t afford medical care. They also aide those not able to afford prescription medicine.
They offer case management services that help people obtain stable housing, and provide beds, pots, pans and other necessities. The mission also helps get people into addiction rehabs across the country. Theology class and weekly Bible study, and chapel services are also provided on site.
They help mothers who need diapers for their babies. Various programs are available to help with food and formula, and yet diapers are not often easily attainable to many, according to David Ziler, exectuive director of Union Mission.
The mission also helps many get their Social Security card, birth certificate, and/ or drivers license. Ziler say many come in without having any vital documentation, and “that can be crippling.”
For many the idea of a homeless shelter makes people think of those suffering from addiction. Ziler says their biggest gap is 60-70 years of age - many not qualifying for hospital care or a nursing home.
He also says the number of children in this area who are homeless is higher than most would imagine. Mentally ill individuals also make up a  good portion of those whohave reached out for help.
With everything that the shelter provides, it does come at a cost. It take approximately $500,000 a year to keep the shelter running. They are 100 percent donation based. WIthout the community’s support, they would not be able to provide the services they do. With the community support, many children, elderly, and others would go hungry.
The mission is always seeking donations - monetary as well as others. Some of the things they need during the holiday season as well as year round include diapers, clothes, household items except furniture, hygiene products, laundry and dish soaps, and with every cold season there is a big push for coffee. Ziler says they have hot coffee available 24 hours a day in the winter months. to help those in need of keeping warm.
“We can always use coffee,” he said.
The Union doesn’t just get people in where it’s warm, they hold their hand and help them get on their feet. “As long as it takes you to complete your walk, we’re beside you,” says Ziler. “As long as you’re walking the good path, we walk with you.”
The shelter has a 60 percent employment rate for those staying at the shelter. They provide transportation to and from work for those in need.
For Ziler, these are not just clients or those in need, they are family. As he looks through the pictures in a calendar featuring some of the clients, he calls them each by name. To him they are his friends and his family.
As he came across one photo in particular, he smiled and and said, “She has dinner with me and my family several nights a week.”
ZIler says he came to this position after he and four others decided to spend three nights sleeping on the streets to see what the needs were.
“It was worse than they could imagine,” he said, adding that he knew he had to do more.
Many people find themselves in need or homeless through situations that are not always within their control. Failing health, medical crises, loss of job; anyone can find themselfe wthout. During those periods, things are dark and they don’t know were to turn. There is no hope for many, he says.
“It’s like being deep in a cave, and they turn out the lights, and without help you can’t find your way out,” he says. “We are the hand that reaches out in the darkness. “There are 1,000 reason that you may end up here, but without help they can all walk out of a dark situation. We’re not a homeless shelter in my eyes, we are family,” Ziler says.
“The only success stories you see are those who you have relationships with, those who have others vested in them, who have a true interest in them to see them  succeed.”
If you would like to make a donation to the Union Mission Rescue, you can drop it off at the Mineral Daily News Tribune, 21 Shamrock Dr., Keyser.