Christmas Comfort

Less than a handful braved the freezing overnight temperatures, sleeping in the car, in order to be first in line. That ensured first pick in Santa’s toy shop, where parents selected one large and two smaller gifts for each child, along with a family game. Afterwards, they had the option of chicken, turkey, or ham, plus all the fixings, and could hunt through racks of slightly-worn jackets, or a box filled with colorfully-knitted winter caps.

The tantalizing aroma of smoked turkey permeated the air as Pastor Bill Rice with Rushing Wind Ministry, along with helper Abby Lovell, fed sandwiches to those waiting patiently outside.

Inside, Santa’s elves ensured order, restocked shelves, and assisted in the toy shopping. Elf Kristie Ratchford helped Serina Simmons of North Fork shop for her three children, ages 19, 13 and 2. Simmons had been waiting for the doors to open since 6:30 a.m.

“I lost my Social Security in July so this means a lot to me,” Simmons explained. “I didn’t think I would be able to give my kids a Christmas this year.”

Humberto Moreno took the chill off, enjoying the warmth of the sun while balancing 11-month-old Alma on his lap. On his mind was spotting just the right toy for Alma and her siblings, ages 9 and 6.

“This is the slow time of year for me at work, so I can’t thank Manna House enough for helping provide a good Christmas for my family,” Moreno said.

Gladys Williams was busy rustling through the jackets, looking for the ideal fit for her 21-year-old son, saying, “This is such a wonderful thing. I’m on SSI, so this helps out so much.”

It was one-stop shopping last week during the annual Christmas give-away at Manna House.

“For me, this is the happiest time of year,” clothing department manager Pat Sebring said. “I dearly love this ... but my husband will be glad to get me back.”

Head elf Sebring has not only been extraordinarily busy coordinating the transformation of the clothing department into Santa’s toy shop, but also handmade 100 pairs of earrings as gift options.

“For all the strife in the world today, I’m proud to live in the Oakhurst community, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” food manager Bruce Bartlett said. “The residents are so filled with love and generosity, and that generosity goes a long way with us because we have such a good purchasing system.”

Indeed, over the years, it has become a well-tried, proven system. Using gift cards from Grocery Outlet Bargain Market (collected in July through the Independence from Hunger campaign), Manna House purchased chickens and hams, as well as dried goods at cost. Raley’s donated turkeys, chickens and ham. Because of the way the program is set up, Vons will donate food items after the first of the year. And once again, Toys for Tots delivered hundreds of donated toys for boys and girls of all ages.

To the delight of the children, Santa took a break from the hectic crazinesss of his North Pole workshop to stop by and hand out candy canes. Aiyana Sandoval, 4, jumped at the chance to ask Santa for Play Doh this Christmas. Aiyana was with her mom, Raquel, and 15-month-old brother, Elijah.

“God has blessed us with the money for rent and to keep the lights on, but sometimes there’s nothing left over for extras,” Raquel said. “We wouldn’t have had much for Christmas this year if it wasn’t for Manna House, and all those who donate to Manna House ... such a blessing ... thank you everyone.”

Bartlett sees a definite improvement in the economy, and with that comes a drop in the numbers. Last year, Manna House provided Christmas meals to 370 families, compared to 250 this year. When it comes to toys, 325 families signed up for toys in 2014 (about 700 toys), and 150 (about 300 toys) signed up in 2015. Bartlett believes this is due to people being more willing to take a job at McDonalds or Denny’s, instead of looking for hand-outs.

“The community of EMC stepped up again this year, to make the Christmas give-away a give-away to remember. There are those who call us enablers,” Bartlett continued, “but if there are 10 people in need, and nine taking advantage ... with only one truly in need, I believe that our mission has been met.”

Manna House has been meeting its mission to minister to those in need with dignity for decades. It was founded in 1982 for the specific purpose of providing a Christian emergency food and clothing bank to the needy. The non-profit organization can be found on Facebook and donations, which are tax deductible, can be made through PayPal.

Details: Manna House, (559) 683-6262.