Brothers Jim and Jesse Costa have been hosting the Costa’s Wild-game Feed for some three decades. But on Friday, when the pre-Christmas staple event was held at the Manteca Trailer & Motorhome with the usual heavy traffic of people turning the cavernous showroom into something akin to a big wedding feast, the siblings showed no signs of slowing down in what has become their personal life ministry.
“I’ll probably do it till I die, for as long as the good Lord needs me,” Jim Costa said about the gastronomic event that continues to remain true to the philanthropic spirit that got it started in the first place – helping needy families during the Christmas season.
His late father, Joe Costa, planted the giving seed more than three decades ago when he – along with his sons, as well as business and family friends – came to the rescue of a young father with 10 children who were suddenly abandoned by their mother just before Christmas. The man, who was from Mexico and was “a clean-up guy” at the Costa’s Automotive shop, refused to go on welfare and struggled to support his family without asking help from anyone. In response, Costa and his sons threw a party for the family and invited Santa to give them gifts in the form of toys, clothes, and food for the man and his children.
“There were 45 people at that first party,” Jim Costa and Tim Hunter, who owned a fire extinguisher business next to the Costa family’s auto shop on Button Avenue, recalled the event that would later attract as many as 1,200 people a year who come not just to enjoy and taste-test the wide array of wild-game dishes but to give voluntary cash donations as well that would be used to purchase gifts for the needy in the community.
“I supplied the meat and my dad, Jack (Plummer) and Roy (Bollard) came with the plans to help and buy the clothes for the children. Roy played Santa Claus for the children. After the family had dinner, Roy ran upstairs to the second floor (of the shop), gathered the gifts and came down as Santa,” remembered Jim with a smile.
His smile widened as he recalled that they went around and purchased used children’s bicycles and tricycles which they repaired and then wrapped for the young kids.
And just as the two Costa siblings, Jim and Jesse, provided the meat for that first party from the fruits of their hunting trips, they continue that giving tradition to this day, with a slight difference. Now, friends who are equally avid hunters and anglers, also donate much of the food that is served on long tables.
The dishes run the gamut – from fried calamari and bear casseroles to fried venison and wild pheasant and boar and smoked salmon. Through the years, other giving individuals have also donated a wide variety of dessert treats – from all types of cakes and cookies to pumpkin pies.
Many of the visitors are perennial guests at this annual event. But there are always first-timers like Edgar Tagle who are experiencing it for the first time after hearing about it from other wild-game dining enthusiasts.
“It’s a great opportunity to help. It’s a blessing,” said Tagle as he relished the pile of food in his plate that included as many different dishes as it could accommodate.
The guests have their own particular favorite dishes. John Teicheira of Manteca who has come to the event every year for the last four years – “I’m a late starter” – said he likes the smoked seasoning, Jim Costa’s specialty.
“I like the seasoning, the smokiness. I also liked the porcupine sausage,” he said with a chuckle.
“It takes like real pork sausage,” agreed Tom Teicheira seated opposite John at the long dining table.
Every penny collected at the wild-game feed goes to help the needy at Christmas with volunteer Bob Grasso and his committee in charge of the shopping, wrapping and distribution of the gifts.