Serving those who are less fortunate on one of Christianity's holiest days is all part of their own Jewish faith, members of Duluth's Temple Israel say.

"It's tikkun olam," said John Sillanpa, as he took a break from serving tables at Union Gospel Mission during the midday meal on Christmas Day.

"You look at what you can do to make the world a better place," said his wife, Toby Sillanpa, defining the term.

"Literally, it's 'repairer of the world,'" John Sillanpa put in.

The Sillanpas and eight or so other Temple Israel members were doing their bit to repair their corner of the world Tuesday, as Temple members have done for decades on Christmas at the mission's home on First Street.

"Christmas Day, this is where we go," John Sillanpa said.

But the Sillanpas were quick to point out that it wasn't only Temple members serving on Christmas. Standing in the hallway greeting all who came were Deacon Dick Laumeyer of St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church and his friend Dan Sherwood, a parishioner at Cathedral of Christ the King in Superior.

Laumeyer, a past board president of the mission, stops by at least a couple of times a week. His wife died in January, Laumeyer said, and he already had spent Christmas with his children. So being with people at the mission on Christmas was beneficial for him.

"These are really very authentic people," he said of its patrons. "Even though they have difficulties, (they are) very authentic and heart-filled people, faith-filled people. So it's a wonderful thing to be here at the mission."

At one of the round tables that fill the mission's dining area, Shelly Rantala had finished eating and was using a clicker to keep track of the number of diners. By 12:40 p.m., that number had reached 78. Typically, the mission serves between 150 and 200 people on Christmas director Susan Jordahl-Bubacz said.

The meal consisted of turkey, dressing, potatoes, yams and cranberries. Dessert was a slice of pie from Rustic Inn, the roadside diner in Castle Danger.

Bev Downs (her street name is "Fluffy," she said) and Corisa Thom were relaxing at a table after having consumed the big meal. Thom refers to Downs as her "adopted mother," and for the two women it was apparent that they came at least as much for the people as for the free meal.

"Lonely," Downs explained, with a cheerful chuckle, and with tongue in cheek. "All of my relatives are dead, and I have to pick people up on the street."

The two women hadn't been to the mission for a while, they said, and they observed changes for the better.

"It's open and more inviting than before," Thom said.

"They've cleaned this up immensely," Downs added.

The people who come for meals at the mission are "the most graciously thankful people I've ever met," said Jordahl-Bubacz, who is entering her fourth year as director.

She was thankful on behalf of her small staff, at least some of whom got the holiday off thanks to the Temple Israel volunteers, Jordahl-Bubacz said. From October on, as the weather gets colder, her staff gets extremely busy, she explained.

"To have volunteers come in like that, it means the absolute world," she said. "It just gives us hope."