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2,000 partake in Christmas Eve breakfast

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Manteca Ford owner Phil Waterford, second from right, and salesman Phil Waterford Jr., left, with some of their guests Sunday morning.

DENNIS WYATT/The Bulletin/

POSTED December 25, 2017 11:18 p.m.

Yes, Manteca, there is a Santa Claus.
In fact there were close to 100 of them up on North Main Street Christmas Eve morn.
And if you think Christmas magic is dead, just ask the Manteca grandmother who had her three young grandsons and one granddaughter she is raising dressed in their Sunday best who stopped by on their way to church at Manteca Ford to partake in the generosity of Phil Waterford and a host of other people who donated toys, eggs, bacon, milk, groceries and more.
Ask the farm worker there with his family of five, the single mom with her two pre-teen daughters, the distribution center worker struggling to support a family of five on $16 an hour, or the young couple with three children under 5 including one that had major surgery just a year ago.
Christmas was looking kind of bleak for them but thanks to the small army of assistant Santas — from Manteca Rotary’s Al Nunes flipping pancakes and Realtor Wendy Benavides volunteering to help with the Second Harvest Food Bank grocery distribution to Jason Herd of Inner City Action grilling the bacon — the holiday was saved to a large degree.
They were all there  — 2,000 kids, mothers, fathers, and grandparents who are again parents plus 100 or so volunteers — for the 10th annual Christmas Eve free community breakfast at Manteca Ford.
The attendees started arriving almost a full two hours before the doors to the showroom converted into community dining hall opened. Servers filled plates with breakfast whipped up by a crew of a mixture of Manteca Rotarians, Inner City Action volunteers, and others led by Rotarians Jeff Liotard and Charlie Halford. If the name Liotard sounds familiar, it’s because Jeff and his wife Tevani — owners of Mt. Mike’s Pizza — have been opening up their restaurant for a number of years now to serve a free community Thanksgiving meal to those in Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop. Just four weeks earlier they served over 2,300 turkey meals.
You don’t have to tell the volunteer cooks such as Rotarian and local businessman Raj Lal, volunteer food distributor Toni Oliver, face painter Eric Ramos of Lucy U Tattoo or the Manteca Ford staff as well as workers from other nearby dealerships who gave up part of their day off what Christmas is about.
If you don’t think it is Christmas magic, just ask that grandmother.
The bacon alone was a rare treat — it just doesn’t happen when you’re trying to feed, clothe, and shelter four grandkids on a limited income at a time in your life when you are retired.
While the visit with Santa was a big hit with the kids up through 12 years of age arguably the biggest eyes were for what waited outside in the Second Harvest Food Bank trucks.
From the trucks volunteers distributed 40 pounds of food to each family. And while most kids this time of year have visions of candy canes and sugar plums dancing in their heads, the biggest smiles on many kids were realizing their families were getting  boxes of strawberries, apples, Brussel sprouts, other fresh produce, yogurt, juice, and more to take home.
Second Harvest’s Jessica Vaughn — who just helped oversee the successful effort via Turkeys R Us to make sure 800 Christmas hams and turkeys were distributed to food closets to provide food baskets to struggling families in Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop — estimated by the end of the three-hour event that nearly 1,000 families would have alomost 20 tons of food filling their cupboards and refrigerators.
And while the Santa distributing toys wore the traditional red felt suit with white fur accent the top Santa of the day — Santa Phil — was decked out in a snazzy blue suit accented with a subtle repeating crisscrossing pattern of white dashes.
“This is great,” Waterford said as he stood along a long line of guests snaking past 2018 Fords on his lot. “I’m extremely excited about the turnout. It’s not about what I can get but what I can give. All of my needs are met. This is about helping others.”
It was a sentiment shared by every volunteer from Fred Stellhorn who was mixing pancake batter to Caesar Rangel who was handing out large boxes of strawberries.
There wasn’t a Scrooge among them.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email

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