Wild boar. Wild pheasant. Wild everything.
That’s what waits for the roughly 1,000 people expected to descend this Friday (Dec. 11) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Manteca Trailer and Camper at East Yosemite and Vasconcellos avenues for the annual Costa’s Wild Game Feed & Holiday Benefit Party.
For the last 32 years, brothers Jim and Jesse Costa have been keeping a family tradition of feeding their friends and family and helping the less fortunate in the process alive and well – growing what started as a small gathering to benefit an employee of the Costa’s Automotive Machine into an annual event that draws people from all over the Western United States.
And yes, they come from far and wide to sample the offerings that local hunters set aside for what has become their version of Christmas.
But what exactly is the Costa’s Christmas Party and Wild Game Feed?
According to the brothers, the event started when their father, who founded the machine shop that bears their name, decided to fix up some bicycles for an employee who had eight children and recently lost his wife. Rather than sticking with a traditional turkey or ham or a slab of standing rib roast, the family looked into their freezer for the wild game that they – as avid sportsmen – had accumulated over the previous year.
They pooled money together and bought toys, and turned what was a heartbreaking situation for one close employee into a time for joy and happiness.
They didn’t stop there.
Over the ensuing years the gathering grew as friends and family members and fellow sportsmen started making the feed something that they look forward to every year.
The event grew so much over the years that they’ve had to change locations multiple times – eventually moving into the then-new Manteca Trailer complex on East Yosemite Avenue where they will gather on Friday.
There is no cost involved with coming down and having a plate of something unique – whether it’s a bear burger or some abaolone that a seasoned diver hand-picked off of the rocky California coastline. The organizers just ask for a small donation that they then relay to charities to help the less fortunate in the community – an aspect that grew right along with the event and now has a committee that determines which organizations in the community will get the lot of the money that’s raised every year.
Last year, according to Jesse Costa, the event raised just over $12,000.
What makes the feed especially unique is the dedication of the volunteers who come and keep it running as hundreds over the course of the day filter through and enjoy the feast.
Many of the hunters will start prepping their food earlier in the week to make sure it’s ready. A small but dedicated crew will arrive late Thursday night to start setting up the barbecues and the tow trailers to create a cooking community that has thrived over the years. Even when the temperature dips below freezing, this group is out there making sure that there’s enough food for the masses – whether that’s sausage or steaks or meatballs or deep-fried goodies that get gobbled up within minutes.
Several years ago I took a dedicated day off of work to go down and enjoy the party – spending most of the time huddled around the hot barbecue as a who’s who of the community filtered through to take up conversation and enjoy a few libations – or more than a few in some cases – to keep the mood festive.
The first time I was attended was when the event was still held at Vern’s Towing – a stone’s throw from the machine shop – and was thrilled to find a local man was cooking and serving fresh carnitas with all of the taco fixings neatly laid out on a table. Those are still the best tacos that I’ve ever had.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer, a construction worker or a cement layer – everybody that shows up is equal amongst one another and all tirelessly work together to make sure that the people who mark their calendars walk away with full bellies in order to make sure that the donation bin, which sits near the front entrance for all who walk in, stays just as full.
If you’ve never been then it’s something that I recommend trying at least once. Even if you’ve never been a fan of wild game, you’ve probably never had it cooked by people who actually know how to turn something that would turn most people off into a delicacy.
I know guys that started hunting after eating there because they were so impressed with what they tasted. I know others that made it a point to donate additional money every year to keep it going.
Everything typically kicks off just after 11 a.m. and continues to 4 p.m. – drawing diners throughout that span.
Whole city work crews show up in mass to get their plate.
And if you don’t then you’re missing out.