Inside the main room at the Central Union Mission in the District, a preacher was leading homeless men through a rousing church service. Voices were singing. Tambourines were rattling. A chorus was chanting "Glory to His Name."

But in the lobby outside the room, that was all background noise as James Curtis Jr. tried to make a more earthly connection.

Using a borrowed cell phone, he was trying to call his dad.

Curtis, 32, said he had hadn't seen him in about a year, since the time when Curtis was sleeping in a McDonald's near Howard University and his father visited and gave him a couple of dollars.

Since then, Curtis said, they hadn't been in touch. He didn't even have a phone number.

But yesterday, two employees of the Sprint company came to the mission, at 14th and R streets NW, with six mobile phones. They were offering free calling for Father's Day.

They told Curtis it was all right to call information.

"Alexandria, Virginia," he said to the operator. "I'm trying to locate James Curtis Sr."

The event was the third time that Sprint representatives brought phones to the shelter, following visits on Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. Both previous times, Sprint representative Michiko Morales said, about 80 calls were made -- to family, potential employers and social service agencies.

The turnout was lower yesterday, with about 40 calls made.

But at the shelter, which has 82 beds, residents said each call counted. Many of them had stories about lives disjointed by drugs, money shortages or other problems -- cut off from the kind of electronic communication that has become a given, even an annoyance, for most people.

There was Anthony Harris, 40, who was in Phase 1 of the mission's five-phase program for weaning its residents off drugs and alcohol. He wanted to call a friend from the old neighborhood around 18th Street and Columbia Road NW.

"I've been clean and sober for almost 12 days," Harris said. "Maybe he wants to come see me."

After some struggles with the phone and his friend's voice mail, Harris left a message.

"Hello, Donnell, this is Anthony," he said. "I'm at Central Union Mission's gospel program."

Wayne Coleman, wearing a dapper white shirt and gemstone earring, said he finds work setting up and taking down equipment for functions at hotels. He called his sister in New York.

"I'm in D.C., in a church," he told her, with the loud singing in the background. "No work's coming in right now."

Marvin Robinson Jr., 55, called his son, Kevin, in New Jersey. Robinson, who just found work distributing The Washington Post's Express newspaper at the Farragut North Metro station, said he hadn't seen his son, and two grandchildren, in about two years.

"I just thought I'd call you," he told his son. "Tell the grandkids I love 'em."

"This is fantastic," Robinson said afterward.

And then there was Curtis, who said he was in graduate school several years ago when money problems hit.

The operator found his father's number, and soon the phone was ringing.

He got voice mail.

"Hey, Dad, happy Father's Day," Curtis said. "This is amazing. I got your number through 411. I miss you. . . .

"Last time I saw you, you were at the McDonald's. You gave me a couple of dollars to eat, and I appreciated that," Curtis continued.

He left the shelter's phone number. "Ask for James in the kitchen," he said.

After he got off the phone, Curtis said he wondered whether he could stay with his father at some point. He was holding a torn-off sheet of notebook paper with a 703 area code on it.

He said he was planning to call back.

Wayne Coleman, a resident of the Central Union Mission in Northwest, speaks with his sister. About 40 free calls were made yesterday at the shelter.