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Christmas Day meal helps warm up the holidays

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Volunteers from Medford family restaurant El Molcajete Mexican Grill prepare meals at St. Vincent de Paul in Medford on Christmas morning. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Don Krolak of Eagle Point dressed as Santa hands out candy canes during a free meal at St. Vincent de Paul in Medford on Christmas morning. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Don Krolak of Eagle Point dressed as Santa hands out candy canes during a free meal at St. Vincent de Paul in Medford on Christmas morning. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
St. Vincent de Paul Society joins with volunteers to provide for those in need this season

There was a break in the snow Saturday morning at St. Vincent de Paul Society in Medford as volunteers began the charitable organization’s Christmas meal service.

The meal was prepared by employees of the El Molcajete Mexican Grill. The family-owned food business has been providing this holiday meal at St. Vincent for several years. Customers who are also volunteers for the organization reached out to the business and these meals are the result, said Maria Gonzalez-Arias, manager.

In the past “my parents came here for help,” Gonzalez-Arias said. “We were happy that we were presented with this opportunity. Now it’s a family tradition.”

El Molcajete employees are invited, but not required, to participate as well.

“It takes you to a happy place,” Gonzalez-Arias said about volunteering to prepare this St. Vincent holiday meal.

She also described being able to give back and do something for someone else as a way to “feel warm inside.”

That feeling is one the family enjoys sharing with their employees because they are like family, Gonzalez-Arias pointed out.

Another one of the volunteers, Cynthia Naumes, grew up in the Medford area and now lives in San Francisco.

Naumes was among volunteers greeting people at one of the front doors of the main St. Vincent de Paul building and handing out meals, gift boxes and other items. Virtually all of the people took their meals elsewhere.

She fondly remembers volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul on Christmas Day alongside other family members when she was younger.

“I was taking orders, bringing out food to people, greeting them,” Naumes said. “It feels nice now being able to volunteer with everything that’s happened — COVID, fires. It’s been hard for people here and to give back a little bit is nice.”

Santa Claus — a dressed-up Don Krolak of Eagle Point — was handing out gifts to children and doing his best to make sure everyone was having fun.

An outbuilding provided space for a small number of tables decorated with white tablecloths and Santa centerpieces. People who had nowhere else comfortable to eat had a place to sit down for a short time.

Even if they had to sit far apart because of COVID-19 restrictions, there was some friendly conversation and good reviews about the burrito plates.

Volunteers would bring them something to drink. Coffee, good and hot, was often the drink of choice because of the weather.

Carol Escalante used to live on the streets but now has a home and roommates since she has been able to work full time, she said.

Escalante sat at one of the tables. She smiled as she looked at what was inside the gift box she received and talked with some of the other people in the room.

“The job is the first step,” she said.

One of the volunteers said later that at one point Escalante had been living at Hope Village, a gated tiny house community for homeless men, women and couples. Part-time jobs ultimately resulted in her eventually finding full-time work.

On Christmas Day, Escalante was able to take some food back to her roommates.

The mix of clients served by St. Vincent de Paul includes not only homeless people but also those who are impoverished, said John Vinatieri, president of the organization.

Vinatieri said St. Vincent de Paul tries to help people in both types of situations. After interviewing new potential clients, there are a variety of services available meant to make the lives of people who have few or no resources.

“But first they need to be vetted,” Vinatieri explained.

Along with food service and a pantry, this includes help with rent and utility payments, assisting people who need to replace their personal identification documents and a place to have mail delivered as well as store items that require safekeeping.

They also operate a family shelter and a thrift store, among other services.

St. Vincent de Paul continues its search for volunteers so it can expand its efforts. COVID-19 and the fires have displaced not only clients, but also resulted in the loss of some volunteers. In turn, all of those circumstances have made it difficult to keep pace with community need.

For details about how you can help, send emails to ContactUs@svdpmedford.org or telephone 541-772-3828.