Ken Hicks stood over the grill outside of Manteca Trailer and Motorhome Friday morning and wiped the sweat from his brow.
Despite temperatures in the 50s, the heat from his cooking “porcupine balls” – a mixture of elk, deer and wild boar ground into sausage – radiated from the hot surface in front of him as he prepared to fill another tray with the homemade delicacy.
It’s been more than a decade since Hicks first volunteered to cook food for the Costa brothers’ annual Christmas Party and Wild Game Feed now in its 33rd year. And while he enjoys the food that he prepares – which also include duck jalapeno poppers that are so popular that they rarely make it inside – he enjoys being able to help needy families even more.
“I think one of the great benefits of this is that it allows non-sportsmen who have always wanted to try things like this but never had the chance to taste something different,” Hicks said. “And it’s all for a good cause – there are a lot of people that could use this time of year, and the people that come down here help take care of those who need it the most.”
As many as a thousand people worked their way through the line Friday afternoon to taste everything from fresh calamari and wild boar to elk and bear and everything in between.
While the event itself was free and open to the public, the donation bin – where money is collected to provide a warm Christmas to children and families that are struggling to make ends meet – has been getting larger and larger each year that the brothers hold their annual bash.
According to Jesse Costa, the event raised $15,000 last year that was disseminated by a committee to people who had been recommended by local agencies. It is keeping in the tradition that was started more than three decades ago with a small group of local sportsmen and their take who had come together to make Christmas special for a family that was down on its luck.
“It’s gotten gradually larger each year and we’re able to help take care of more people than ever before,” Costa said while working his way through the dozens of volunteer cooks that turn the donated game into tasty culinary delights. “We have a lot of people that keep coming back to volunteer every year and they’re really the ones that make this into what it is.”
Some of those people, like Fagundes Meats and Catering Owner Frank Teixeira, look forward to the event so that they can put their cooking knowledge towards a benefit for the less fortunate.
And Teixeira knows a thing or two about how to cook wild game.
As a butcher at Manteca’s last independent shop, Teixeira spends a good portion of his fall processing deer, elk and anything else that his customers bring in to him. He rarely gets the chance, however, to cook up the things that he prepares which makes his participation something that gives his great joy for more reasons than one.
“It’s a good cause that raises funds to make sure that people who need help end up getting a Christmas that they can remember and I think that’s why a lot of people come down here for this every year,” Teixeira said. “And while I process a lot of these types of meat, I don’t ever get the chance to cook it, and it’s fun to come down here and be on this end of the grill for once.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.