Mila Moreno and friend Francisca Flores held their young children close in the near freezing overnight temperatures. It was 3:30 a.m., Tuesday, and they tried to keep warm huddled in multiple blankets while drinking plenty of hot coffee. Their 2-year-old kids Alma Rose and Juan were content and didn’t fuss much, despite the cold.
“It was hard to sleep,” Mila said. Francisca teased that was because Mila couldn’t stop thinking of all the toys inside - she had her heart set on a dollhouse for her three girls.
Toys were the reason the two had arrived early. It guaranteed first pick in Santa’s Manna House toy shop, where parents were allowed to select one large and two smaller gifts for each child, along with a family game. Afterward, a chicken plus all the fixings was handed out, and attendees could hunt through racks of slightly-worn jackets, new shoes, or a box filled with colorfully-knitted winter caps.
“When I got here at 5:30 a.m., there were six chairs lined up on the sidewalk outside the front door,” Manna House Director Tom Nicolulis said. “I brought them inside to get warm, made a monster pot of coffee and gave each a croissant.”
This year, nearly 300 signed up for meals and toys. The Marine Corps League Griswold Mountain Detachment delivered about 1,100 toys from the area’s Toys for Tots drive, with the bulk of food purchased at discount from Raley’s and Grocery Outlet Bargain Market.
To the delight of the children, Santa took a break from the hectic craziness of his North Pole workshop to stop by, hand out candy canes, and have youngsters whisper special gift wishes in his ear.
“The community has truly blessed Manna House with offerings of love, donations and food,” Food Manager Bruce Bartlett said.
“What I’ve noticed is that those in need are looking out for one another,” added Nicolulis. “They’re not complaining, and stepping up to the plate ... it’s a big team effort ... truly a village taking care of those in the village. What a wholesome and loving attitude during this most wonderful time of the year.”
With the help of Manna elf Jackie “Claus,” Francisca was able to find exactly what she needed for her five children, and Mila couldn’t have been more thrilled with her perfect find - that dollhouse for her daughters.
“I’m so thankful and happy,” she said. “Yes, it was very cold outside and a long wait, but Francisca and I did it for our children, so they would have toys this Christmas.”
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.