VACAVILLE — It takes a small army to put together the annual Christmas Eve dinner at the Vacaville Veterans Memorial Building, but the nearly 800 meals served this year and the smiles on the faces of those eating in the hall make it all worth it.
Jeff Jewell, a director and counselor out of the Sacramento Vet Center, said the 150 to 200 volunteers put in a ton of work – including delivering nearly 190 meals and packing and bagging nearly 100 more to-go orders.
Then there’s serving the hundreds who walked through the doors for the free meal.
“We’ll have 400 or so come though in three to four hours,” Jewell said. “Some of them will tell us about their neighbors who need meals. Sometimes the homeless will eat and then take a meal to go.”
Open to anyone who needed a good, hot Christmas meal, the annual dinner also featured the arrival of Santa Claus by fire truck and hundreds of toys for any underprivileged children who came by.
Throughout the meal, the hall was filled with smiling faces.
Kids played with their new toys – some donated by the Vacaville Fire Department and some from the California Highway Patrol. There were so many toys donated that the piles on the table reached up to three feet. It was all the product of months of planning and volunteer hours beyond count.
Jewell said he’d been at the veterans building for three days, prepping food and getting the meal ready. All told, 48 turkeys and about 200 pounds of ham provided the main course. Then there were cases of yams, several sheet cakes and dozens of pies, not to mention salad and other vegetables.
The meal truly is a community event, said coordinator Lew Derfuss.
“Donations were down a little bit,” he said. “Friday, I called the local radio station and said, ‘Hey we need some help. Let me get the word out.’ We only had about 24 turkeys and about six hams.”
In one day, another 24 turkeys came in. Durfuss also hit up the local grocery stores and secured more donations and finished stocking up on Monday.
Jewell said the community volunteers do all the cooking, serving and delivering as well.
“This community comes through every year,” Jewell said.
Some of the volunteers keep coming back – some for as many as 17 years.
“I’ve seen some of these kids grow up volunteering,” Jewell said.
For some of the volunteers it’s about helping out during the season of giving.
Exequiel Enriquez, a former Army cook, helped cook the meal and had been at the hall since 5:30 a.m.
“I love doing it,” said the 17-year Army veteran. “I love to cook.”
Serving fellow veterans is what it was all about.
Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcorposdr.