Penny Moyer and her family have been delivering and serving meals at the Mid-City Concerns Christmas dinner every year for the past half-decade or so, with one exception.
The family traveled to Disneyland to celebrate the holidays a few years back. Moyer, supervising the bustling dining room of the downtown Meals on Wheels building off Second Avenue on Thursday, remembers her daughters waking up that Christmas morning saying, “This is not where we’re supposed to be. We’re supposed to be at home doing Mid-City.”
Her daughters, Abbie and Beka, wheeled around dessert trays of pies, cakes and other goodies Thursday as mom directed traffic and made sure the dozens of attendees received their choice of ham or turkey. Her husband, Jim, son Adam and daughter Katie were out on the road delivering food to those who couldn’t travel to the center on Christmas. Event coordinator Carl Perron said he anticipated 500 meals would be served to the needy on a foggy but balmy Christmas Day.
“It’s just very cool, a lot of people,” Perron said.
Back in the kitchen, Danea Biltoft was spending her first Christmas volunteering with Mid-City stirring melting butter into a large pan of green beans. Biltoft was sharing a holiday of service with her son, Jordan, who suggested the activity while his father worked and the family awaited the arrival of relatives to celebrate Christmas next week.
“I can’t take credit for this, this was his idea,” Danea Biltoft said, motioning with her shoulder to her son standing by the industrial dishwasher. Jordan Biltoft, a member of the Southside Christian Church where many of the volunteers – including the Moyers – attend services, said the day of service was a way to spend time with others.
“It’s good to be in good company, and God is good,” Jordan Biltoft said.
Weaving through the kitchen was Todd Tuflija, who’s been cooking at the event for the past six years, he said. Tuflija, who donned a Santa cap and an apron emblazoned “cook,” said the future of the event would depend on young people showing up to help out their community. He made the pitch among the din of banging pots and sizzling side dishes.
“The heart-filled emotion that you get out of doing this – just four hours will change your life,” Tuflija said.
In the dining room, the Moyer girls wheeled the dessert cart past Gladys Thomas, who is living with her son and 1-year-old grandson while she receives radiation treatments for cancer at Sacred Heart Medical Center. Thomas was looking for pie, which hadn’t made the rounds yet. She was seated next to a white teddy bear outfitted in a green-and-red dress, a gift from the center when she arrived.
“It helps,” Thomas said of the holiday meal offering, adding that her son was in a car accident recently and is unable to cook for the family on Christmas. “They tried to get me a caregiver, but they haven’t found anyone yet.”
The teddy bear will be a gift for her grandson, Nathan, who she proudly boasts is already singing Christmas carols and talking, though he hasn’t taken his first steps.
Sitting across from Thomas was David Portillo, a homeless Vietnam veteran who was released from prison a couple weeks ago, he said. Portillo said living on the streets had been a humbling experience and that having a place to come for a Christmas meal helped put things in perspective.
“You can come to this place, and they care about you,” he said, adding he hopes to be able to help others when he gets on his feet.
It is this lesson that Penny Moyer hopes to instill in her family, who she said had become too wrapped up in receiving gifts before they decided to serve several Christmases ago. That morning at Disneyland, when her daughters wanted to come back to volunteer, showed the message was getting through, she said.
“It was one of those moments, where you go, ‘OK Lord, I am doing something right,’ ” she said.
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