There were over 1600 guests lined up outside the cavernous convention center,
some waiting since 9 a.m. Promptly at noon the wide doors were opened and every one of the 1600 was personally escorted to their seat
by a Salvation Army Christmas volunteer. Christmas music floated across the room as the seats quickly filled.
Towards the end of one table sat a balding, middle-aged man. He was clean-shaven and smartly dressed. His shoes were shined
and his pants had a sharp crease in them. He could have been the CEO of any large company. Only his eyes gave his feelings away. He
sat quietly and stared ahead, his eyes were dead.
On the other side
of the room an elderly woman was helped to her seat by a short, teenaged Mexican woman. The elderly woman walked slowly to her chair,
aided by a plain, wooden walking cane. The Mexican greeter gently aided the woman as she sat down. Then she whispered in the old woman’s
ear, “Your dinner will be here soon, my dear. I’ll be watching you, so if you need anything just wave at me.” The old woman replied,
“Oh, my, thank you, sweetie, I’ll be fine.”
A teenaged boy, wearing a
hooded grey sweatshirt was escorted to his seat by a woman in her 70’s. The young boy tugged at the hood, which covered most of his
face. The woman bore a huge, maternal smile. The teenager was sullen. Upon reaching his seat he quickly sat without saying a word
and stiffly stared ahead. No thank you was offered to the woman escort.
A large woman in a wheelchair was slowly being pushed down the middle aisle by a short, stocky man wearing a puffy red Santa hat.
The woman was exceptionally large. Her escort pushed the wheelchair towards the edge of the raised platform in the middle of the room
and positioned her so that dinner could be brought to her and so that she could eat without leaving her seat. She appeared to be suspicious
and ill at ease. Her eyes darted around the room.
A Hispanic woman
of about 35 years gave gentle shoves to her sons of 11 and 12 years of age as she pushed a stroller containing her sleeping 3 year
old daughter. The four were escorted to their seats by a smartly dressed attractive woman in her 40’s. Reaching the seats, the mother
guided her two sons to their chairs and positioned the stroller at the end of the table. She sat slowly as she kept her eyes on her
children. Both boys tilted their heads down as their eyes took in their surroundings.
Soon, all the seats were filled and the volunteer food servers lined up at the kitchen area. Each carried an empty plate which would
quickly be filled with portions of hot turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, fresh vegetables, dinner rolls and butter. At the end of
the line each server picked up a slice of pumpkin pie and a drink of either milk or fruit punch. . Hundreds of volunteers carried
the hot dinners to the 1600 Christmas guests of the Salvation Army.
Salvation Army officer offered a prayer to the assemblage and then 1600 grateful guests commenced eating their Christmas dinner.
Halfway through his meal the middle aged balding man turned to his left and started a conversation with a muscular man in his 40’s
who was wearing a motorcycle club leather jacket and a paisley do-rag on his head. The two discussed the tastiness of the turkey before
them. A slight smile appeared on the face of the older man.
woman with the cane looked for her Mexican greeter. Spying her standing two tables away, she raised her right hand and then her thumb,
indicating she was fine. The two smiled at each other.
teenaged boy in the hooded sweatshirt removed his cowling, revealing a handsome face, topped with curly, blond hair. The fatherly
man to his left started a conversation by saying, “So, son, you like sports?” Slowly dropping his sullen attitude, the boy answered,
“Oh, yeah, I used to play baseball and basketball, but when my mom died I had to get a job.” The two talked for an hour.
The large woman in the wheelchair picked at her dinner, finishing only the paper cup filled with fruit punch and the slice of pumpkin
pie. She spent her remaining time stealing glances at the diners around her. Before leaving she closed her eyes and tended a silent
prayer of thanks.
The Hispanic woman made sure that her two teenage sons
cleaned their plates. She spooned a few pieces of pumpkin pie to the mouth of her 3 year old daughter and made sure that her two sons
wiped their lips clean. Then she marched her family towards the line forming in the outer lobby, where Santa was presenting gifts
to the children.
The Santa line stretched for 50 yards, but moved quickly
as Santa gave a gift to every child. To many of the children this would be their only Christmas gift.
Outside the convention center, daylight still poured down. The warm sun bathed the men, woman and children – the Salvation Army guests.
For most this would be their only Christmas celebration.
woman and her three children exited the building. The two boys quickly opened their only Christmas gifts as their mother watched them
with an inner warmth and appreciation. She pushed the stroller holding her 3 year old and her new toy bear as she relished the joy
of her sons opening their gifts.
Tears started to roll down her cheeks
as she watched her children’s enjoyment. It had been three years since her and her children had shared a real Christmas dinner.
A tall, lean Salvation Army officer stood near the exit, offering best wishes to the departing diners. The Hispanic woman turned and
walked back to the officer and said, “God Bless you, sir. Thank you, thank you. You’re wonderful.” The uniformed Salvation Army officer
took one step towards the tearful woman, put his arm around her and said, “No, bless you, young woman – and your children. May good
things happen to you. God bless you.”
Her tears stopped flowing, a smile
replacing them. With one hand she pushed the stroller and with the other patted her son’s heads