Thousands of families gathered at the Modesto Gospel Mission last week to enjoy a hot Christmas meal and a free present before the holidays.

The Modesto Gospel Mission is a full-service provider of emergency beds, residential programs, and a food program for homeless men, women and children.

Adults and children began lining up at about 1 a.m. Friday outside of the mission, located at 1400 Yosemite Blvd., to secure a spot in line to receive food and a donated gift, according to Jason Conway, CEO of the Modesto Gospel Mission.

Conway said they served roughly 2,500 people at the same event last year and were expecting to help 3,000 people this year.

As kids and adults entered the building, they were given a plate of food that included yams, green beans, ham, and dessert. Families sat side-by-side with each other, eating and talking at tables that had green, red and white tablecloths on them.

Attendees eat lunch off tables decorated in red and white during Christmas at the Mission at Modesto Gospel Mission on Dec. 23, 2022. The event that catered to 2,500 people a year ago expected to provide food and gifts for 3,000 people this year. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Marisol Vargas said she and her three children had waited outside for four hours for the event because she didn’t have enough money to buy her children anything for Christmas this year.

“It feels good because we’re able to come to a place that helps with food and gives to the kids during these times,” Vargas said.

Gifts for all ages

After families were fed, they made their way to a room filled with unwrapped Christmas presents that included dolls, train sets, toy car sets, Bluetooth speakers, blankets, coffee makers and air humidifiers.

Kids were not the only ones allowed a gift; adults were able to select a present too.

According to Conway, since January the mission had been collecting gift donations from community members and organizations in order to have the large selection of gifts offered at the event.

Liam Gonzalez, 3, looks at a present he picked up during Christmas at the Mission at Modesto Gospel Mission. Unwrapped gifts were available for children and adults alike. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

However, with the changing economy, Conway said this year they did see a decrease in the amount of toys they received and had an increase in the amount of people that needed help.

Expecting mother Mariana Montoya said she had come across the event details while on Facebook.

She said the event helped her financially because not only did it provide her and her child a meal, but it also helped her save money since her son was given a toy.

Justin Flora, a volunteer, said he felt that since he had been blessed with so much in life it felt like a blessing to be able to see others be blessed with gifts.

Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.