NORFOLK -- The sounds of Christmas were in the air Tuesday afternoon at the Union Mission in Norfolk as hundreds of homeless men gathered for a pint-sized Christmas concert followed by a Christmas Eve lunch.

It was an afternoon meant to soften the blow of being homeless during the holidays, said Union Mission spokeswoman Linda Jones.

'We do our best to bring joy and hope to those that are here and to make it a wonderful holiday season,' Jones said. 'Homelessness is very difficult during the holidays. It can be a very depressing time of year because a lot of -- most of -- these people here have broken connections with family.'

Jones said Union Mission has seen an increased demand for help this year. In fact, Jones said, demand has increased 10 to 15 percent each of the past four years.

'We're seeing a lot younger people, younger than we've ever seen before, ages 18 to 25-year-olds,' Jones said. 'We're seeing a lot of people who've just lost their jobs and homes. It's not what we traditionally think of as homeless people.'

The increased need has placed a strain on the Norfolk charity but Jones said they've been able to meet every request for help, thanks to generous donors and an army of volunteers.

Kevin Hammond, who was serving lunch with his family Tuesday afternoon, said his family has made it a tradition to serve each year.

'It's a huge blessing,' Hammond said. 'We hear that over and over again. If it's just coleslaw or potato salad or even a pimento cheese sandwich, I heard a guy say it's just a blessing, I'll take it.'

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