Empty parking spaces at Manna House during the annual Christmas food and toy give-away last Thursday were non-existent. Vehicles overflowed into the parking lot of the Yosemite New Life Nazarene Church and down Junction Drive. Even the intermittent drizzles couldn't dampen the spirits of the families forming a long line down the dirt driveway.
In preparation for the day, Tom Nicolulis, Manna House volunteer director, and Pastor Bill Rice of Rushing Wind Ministries smoked turkeys until late the night before in order to provide turkey sandwiches. Starbucks donated coffee and hot cocoa.
Using a forklift, Brandon and Jessica Steele, owners of the Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, delivered chickens and hams. Because of the dark and threatening skies, Brandon returned with a large canopy to cover several free-standing metal frames used to hang an assortment of coats and jackets.
Raley's donated 32 turkeys, 26 chickens and 12 hams. Manna House purchased non-perishables at cost from Coarsegold Market, which were displayed on folding tables in specific categories for effortless selection.
Nicolulis passed out special treats Lindt chocolate bars while bantering with the growing crowd. Much to the delight of everyone, Santa made a surprise appearance, laughing and chatting with the children, while throwing in several hearty "ho, ho, ho's" for good measure.
Volunteers had worked fast and furiously to transform the clothing department into a well-organized, magical Santa's toy warehouse for speedy and easy shopping. Santa's elves acted as personal shoppers to assist in choosing just the right toys for each child.
One of the early shoppers, Amber Haynes, has three young children. With the assistance of volunteer Santa's helper Joyce Bruns, she was able to make perfect selections.
"It's just great that Manna House helps us provide Christmas for our family," Haynes said.
Another animated and grateful shopper, Jennifer Baroon, was assisted by volunteer Nita Kiehlmeier in picking the ideal toys for her four children, all under 10 years-of-age.
"You know, if it wasn't for Mike Perreira (Mountain Area Toys for Tots coordinator) and his crew, we wouldn't have been able to provide toys for the 275 families who signed up this year," Nicolulis explained. "It's the same misperception that surrounds our providing food items to the community. If Manna House relied solely on food donations, we would only be able to provide food for two-or-three days to those in need."
"Well, the same goes for the Christmas toys," Nicolulis continued. "If it weren't for Toys for Tots, we would only be able to provide toys to five families. As it turned out this year, there weren't enough toys donated to fill our order; so, by using cash donations, Mike went out and bought $3,000 worth of toys for Manna House children. All I can say is thank God for Toys for Tots."
It was in mid-October that Manna House announced its annual Thanksgiving and Christmas food give-aways were being canceled due to a 60% reduction in donations and increased demand. Word of that decision spread fast after a story in the Oct. 17 Sierra Star explained the non-profit's financial struggles.
"It's just overwhelming how this community has stepped forward," Nicolulis said. "Thanks to the efforts of the Sierra Star, other businesses, service clubs, churches and individuals, we were able to continue the tradition of helping those in need this holiday season."
"We usually get extra help from Jesus and Santa over the holidays," Bruce Bartlett, Manna House food manager added, "but it's important to remember that we minister to those in need of basic living supplies all year long."
Manna House is an all-volunteer entity, founded in 1982, for the specific purpose of providing a Christian emergency food and clothing bank to those in need. It can be found on Facebook and donations, which are tax deductible, can be made through PayPal.
Details: Manna House, (559) 683-6262.