Santa greeted dozens of kids Friday who lined up at St. Vincent de Paul’s main dining hall in Santa Rosa as they awaited their turn to pick up a Christmas gift or two. For some, these were their only gifts this season.
“They’re so excited to see Santa Claus,” said Adriana Arreola, who brought her three kids for the celebration.
“Ho-ho-ho,” said Randy DeCaminada, who dressed as St. Nick. One by one, DeCaminada handed brightly wrapped gifts to excited little boys and girls on Friday.
“Awesome! This is so good!” yelled 9-year-old Jose Ruiz, Arreola’s son, who picked up a brand-new skateboard. Most families waited to open their gifts until they returned home, but volunteers said they’d wrapped hundreds of presents, from binoculars and skateboards, to toys and dolls and games.
The celebration, organized by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a nonprofit agency that serves the poor, also included a hot Christmas meal for low-income families and homeless people. In addition, volunteers were on hand to pass out winter coats, warm blankets and sleeping bags for those in need.
“I think this is important because it reminds people who are down on their luck that the greater community cares about them … that we haven’t forgotten about them,” said Jack Tibbetts, an executive committee member for the local St. Vincent de Paul who is also running for the Santa Rosa City Council. “So many people are sleeping outside, sleeping in their cars and couch surfing. … I don’t see this getting any better. In fact, I’m seeing more and more people who can’t afford to live here.”
Tibbetts and volunteers from the Wine Country Young Democrats handed out coats and socks throughout the afternoon as people trickled into the dining room and out of the cold.
“We froze last night. … It’s hard as hell out here,” said Steven Trabert, 58, who sleeps in his car and stopped by to pick up some warm clothes and eat Christmas dinner.
Chris Willis, 67, a Vietnam veteran who also stopped for a hot meal, said he was thankful for company Friday.
“These people are a real blessing,” Willis said. “It’s real special.”
Willis’ friend, Will Vierra, dined with him. He also said he came for the company on Christmas.
“This feels really good,” said Vierra, who works as a handyman.
More than 100 others stopped by the dining room for the holiday dinner, and many picked up warm clothes and blankets. Robert Handy, who is homeless, said it felt nice to be inside on Christmas.
“I slept outside last night. … Sometimes I walk around to stay warm, sometimes I just deal with it,” said Handy, 59, as he feasted on ham and mashed potatoes. “So this is good, to be here.”
You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or email@example.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.