The Christmas meal provided by Manna soup kitchen meant a lot to Eric Stickle, who is watching every penny trying to keep afloat through February, when he can leave the Budget Inn and begin his warm weather plan to live in his car.
Stickle, a Durango native who has worked as a cook around town, receives $695 a month in Social Security, and said he generally lives seven months in his car and five months at the Budget Inn ever since chronic injuries drove him from the kitchen.
“I never had a lot of money, but I always had a job, until I couldn’t stand on my feet all day. It (is difficult) getting old,” Stickle said after picking up a Christmas brunch for a friend at the Budget Inn and one for himself.
With his tight budget, Stickle said every donation, like the Christmas meal offered at Manna, will help him make it through February.
Manna prepared 550 meals for the Christmas brunch. The meals were offered in a drive-thru set up at the soup kitchen, 1100 Avenida del Sol.
“We made a lot of meals. We didn’t want to run out,” said Matt Harper, chairman of Manna’s board of directors.
Seanan Culloty, head chef at Manna, said the biggest challenge to preparing 550 meals is simply the kitchen logistics.
“We have to stage things. We don’t have enough space to cook it all at once,” he said.
Cooking for the meal, which featured roast chicken and honey-glazed ham, began Monday.
Vegetables were cut, prepped and stored in water and refrigerated for cooking Christmas morning. The intricate stuff like the chicken was cooked three-quarters of the way earlier and then also finished Christmas morning.
Culloty; Mitchell Lipsak, a Manna chef; and several AmeriCorps volunteers handled kitchen duties.
Culloty and crew began working at 5 a.m. Christmas Day to bring everything to a crescendo.
When clients picked up the grab-and-go brunches, they were still warm.
Donations for the meal came from Ben E. Keith Co. food distributor, Peak Food & Beverage Co. and individual donations.
Also on the menu were herb-roasted red potatoes, apricot-candied carrots, a garden salad, a dinner roll and peppermint sponge cake.
Donations of toys came from Durango Harley-Davidson, the Riverhouse Children’s Center, Four Corners Expo and individual donations.
Clothing items, camping gear and other items also were donated for distribution during the brunch.
Open Sky Wilderness Therapy and Zumiez, a store in the Durango Mall, donated jackets.
Winter camping kits were donated by Durango Outdoor Exchange and the Equity and Emergency Preparedness Program of San Juan Basin Public Health.
Sleeping bags were donated by the Universalist Unitarian Fellowship of Durango.
To top everything off, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory donated chocolates and Lone Spur Cafe donated some breakfast gift cards.
Jose Dias, who came to Durango 12 years ago from Mexico, said with his budget tight this year, the toys helped make the Christmas special for his young son, Leo, 3, and his daughters Joselyn, 8, and Allison, 10.
Leo chose several toy cars. Joselyn and Allison left with board games, Monopoly and Life, as well as some coloring books.
Guadalupe Fragoso, came by to pick up meals for several members of Durango’s immigrant community. She also picked out several toys for children.
Zulema Arguelles, who translated for Fragoso, said many members of the immigrant community are too shy to take advantage offerings like Manna’s Christmas meals, which Manna Executive Director Ann Morse said have been up and running for at least 20 years.
“A lot of people are afraid and embarrassed to come, but she is choosing toys for kids she knows. She is very brave,” Arguelles said of Fragoso.