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Christmas feast at Sonoma County Fairgrounds

  • Pat Lucas delights the kids while passing out drinks at the Salvation Army Christmas Feast at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Saturday, December 21, 2013.

    (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Mandy Smith wanted to get a family photo this year with Santa Claus, but her 3-year-old daughter Arianna was spooked by the jolly old elf on hand Saturday at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

Luckily, Mrs. Claus proved a suitable compromise, posing with the family for their holiday souvenir, just one of many services offered to thousands of needy families at the Redwood Gospel Mission's annual Christmas Feast.

Smith, a 33-year-old mother of four, and her three youngest children enjoyed a full turkey meal with all the trimmings and picked up a few extra presents compliments of the Salvation Army. Her daughter, Destiny, 11, even got her hair cut.

Christmas Feast At Sonoma County Fairgrounds

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"We're kind of strapped for money this year," Smith said. "This is a huge help."

Raising a family while on disability from her job at a preschool has been a huge challenge, and Smith said she appreciated the generosity and services being offered.

Children rollicked on the inflatable slide or got their faces painted in Grace Pavilion. Others picked up warm coats, got their feet washed or benefited from free medical tests, compliments of St. Joseph Health System.

Many of those in attendance were Latinos, who stand a 1-in-4 chance of developing diabetes, said Chelene Lopez, manager of the St. Joseph's Healthy Communities program. Nurses make sure to review the results with patients to ensure they understand the risks and are getting the treatment they need, Lopez said.

The event drew more people than expected, said Redwood Gospel Mission Executive Director Jeff Gilman. Around 2 p.m. they were on track to serve about 3,000 meals by the end of the day, he said.

The main change this year was what Gilman called "dinner theater," a play retelling various biblical stories that was performed during the meal served in the Hall of Flowers. Volunteers also handed out small Bibles to anyone interested.

"We're all called to comfort the poor," Gilman said.


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