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Helping Hands giving away 200 Christmas food baskets
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Every year, on the third Saturday of December, the elderly woman in a wheelchair joined the long lines to receive her box of Christmas goodies from Helping Hands.

There was one particular thing that Lillian Cushman noticed about her. “She was always so cold,” she said.

“So for Christmas one year, I bought gloves and gave them to everybody. Then I took my favorite jacket and I put it on this lady. I gave it to her. And I gave her some gloves and a scarf. I even took her a little blanket because she was in a wheelchair,” said Cushman who, with husband Jack, have been leading the Helping Hands volunteer crew who help distribute food baskets to the needy every third Saturday of the month at Cornerstone Community Church on East Yosemite Avenue in Manteca.

The story of the elderly lady is just one of the many heart-tugging stories coming out of the all-volunteer philanthropic program at Cornerstone.

Another story is about the hot chili beans that are given to the people while they are waiting in line to receive their food rations.

Because the lines are usually long, Cushman and volunteer Lucy Smith cooks two big pots of chili beans “to give them something hot to eat while they are waiting,” Cushman said. Accompanying the chili are other treats as well, plus freshly brewed coffee.

Cushman did not realize how much impact a small cup of chili beans has on their clients until one day, one woman told her, “You don’t only give us food to go but you also feed us because you probably figure that a lot of us have not eaten breakfast.”

It’s a harsh reality that Helping Hands volunteers see all the time, unfortunately. Cushman still remembers “a homeless man” who asked her to give him only half a cup of chili beans. She soon realized the reason for the man’s request as he watched him take “a muffin and crumpled it up, then took some brownies and put them all in the chili” and ate the whole thing mixed that way.

“Winter and summer we feed them, and they are always grateful,” said Cushman. “Even in the summertime, they still want the beans. We tried to make a big salad one time; they didn’t want it. They said, ‘Where’s the beans? We want the beans.’ But we also make them cold sandwiches and we give them lemonade. And sometimes I’ll make pumpkin bread.”

More than 200 food boxes ready for Christmas giveaway on Saturday

The third Saturday of this month, which is this weekend, will be the Christmas food giveaway. It will be held at the usual time, from 10 a.m. until noon. No pre-registration or sign-up is required. The distribution will be on a first-come, first served basis.

Cushman said they are expecting 200 families and individuals to show up so they prepared that many food baskets. Much of the contents are non-perishables, “but I have to tell you, we get carried away sometimes,” she said, which means the people get something extra as well. Among the staples are potatoes, gravy, olives, yams, canned fruit, and rolls plus a loaf of bread if they happen to have them. The availability of turkey or ham to include in those food baskets depends on what they are able to get from Second Harvest Food Bank in Manteca.

All the food is made possible by donations from members of Cornerstone Church who always give generously throughout the year, Cushman said, plus money coming from kind-hearted individuals, businesses and organizations in the community.

The need for money and donated non-perishable goods is year-round. Besides the Christmas and Thanksgiving food give-aways, Helping Hands distributes food every third Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon.

“We always welcome donations – always, especially nonperishables,” Cushman said. “If we don’t use them one month, we’ll use them the next. Just take them to the church office during regular business hours.”

Cornerstone Community is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call the (209) 825-1220. The church is located at the corner of East Highway 120 and Comconex Road.