They started lining up at 7:30 Tuesday morning, Nov. 21. By the time the doors opened at 10, there were more than 60 waiting patiently for the annual Manna House Thanksgiving giveaway to begin.
Twelve-to-fourteen pound turkeys were handed out to families, with all the traditional sides. For those single, a chicken was given, along with a smaller box of food items.
The volunteers wore radiant smiles as they handed out the meats, side dish ingredients, breads, pastries and special treats to grateful recipients, who commented often on how much bleaker their circumstances would be without help from Manna House.
Lora Bellefeuille said she has utilized the Manna House services off and on, whenever there is a need to help her make it through the month. Dewey Barnes is considered low income, and relies upon them to make holidays extra special. Kimberly Salazar doesn’t qualify for any kind of assistance because her husband’s income is too high, and with four children to feed, there’s just not enough money to go around sometimes.
“By the grace of God, we were able to bless more than 300 this Thanksgiving,” food manager Bruce Bartlett said.
All dry goods were purchased from Grocery Outlet Bargain Market at wholesale cost, and Rich Wood Meat Company in Merced sold 282 turkeys, also at wholesale cost. This is the first time in five years that Manna House has been able to offer turkeys.
“Thank you to the community who continues to support us. I’m not Manna House,” Director Tom Nicolulis said. “The volunteers aren’t Manna House. The board of directors aren’t Manna House ... it’s you, the community ... you’re Manna House.
Nicolulis then shifts his attention to a young adult male, unsteady on his feet and about to stumble. He grabs an arm to steady him and adds, “The only thing worth holding on to in life is each other.”
He’s a little more reflective, saying that he just returned from Escondido where his nephew, who Nicolulis held in his arms at 13 and is now 62, has lost his leg to diabetes, is on dialysis, and refuses to eat or drink.
“Bobby is being feed intravenously, and when I first went in his room, I knelt down and whispered that I was glad to see him,” Nicolulis continued. “His eyes popped open and he said ‘how come.’ ‘Because I love you so much.’ It’s all about family, all about people, and holding on to each other ... and loving each other just as Jesus loves us.”
Tracie Mendoza was once a Manna House volunteer. She now works full-time as a housekeeper, which leaves her little free time in her busy schedule as a single mom with four children.
“It’s a struggle,” Mendoza said. “I do come to Manna House for clothing and food, but mostly for spiritual uplifting. They do such a great thing here and are such a blessing. You can come in with nothing, but leave with something ... plus love, a prayer, and a smile.”
While donations are not needed at this time due to limited storage, community members wishing to help support Manna House can do so by donating to the bell ringers and purchasing a bag of food items from Raley’s for $10, which Raley’s will triple.
Bell ringers will be in front of Raley’s, Grocery Outlet and Vons from Dec. 2-17. The Raley’s offer will continue now through Dec. 22.
The Christmas giveaway takes place Dec. 19. Sign ups run Dec. 1-15. Just as with the Thanksgiving giveaway, this is limited to 300, so once this number has been reached, sign ups will be cut off.
About Manna House
Manna House has been meeting its mission of ministering 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.