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The gift that keeps on giving
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“You never know, when you do something, how that is going to affect a lot of people. It’s just an ongoing thing of people giving.”
That comment was made by John Costa at the 23rd annual Costa’s Wild Game Feed Friday sponsored by his brothers Jim and Jessie, owners of Costa’s Automotive on Button Avenue in Manteca.
Hundreds of people patiently waited in line for the chance to enjoy or, for perhaps some newcomers, to taste-test a wide array of wild-game dishes — from roasted and stewed bear, fried calamari, smoked wild salmon from Oregon, deep-fried wild turkey and chuckar, deer patties, elk, wild pig or boar, and trout — served buffet-style.
The food served at this yearly Christmas get together is offered free of charge to anyone; however, free will offerings are accepted with every cent of the money collected going to help needy families at Christmas.
It’s a philanthropic tradition that was started by the late Joe Costa, the original owner of Costa’s Automotive in Manteca, when he reached out to one of his employees and his 10 children who were going through a particularly difficult time.
After sons Jim and Jessie took over the business and even after their father passed away, the brothers kept the philanthropic tradition which soon grew beyond their expectations. But the heart-tugging stories about the people who have been touched, and are being touched by this Christmas event have remained the same — stories of unstinting hope, the never-ending power of human love and the priceless joy that emanates from the simplest act of charity to a seemingly simple child’s wish.

Kids ask for pants & coats
This year, in particular, with many families struggling through these hard economic times as family bread winners lose their jobs, the things on the wish lists that they received were specially touching.
“Before, it was, ‘I’d like a new Nintendo’ — computer stuff. This year, they are mainly the basics. Some kids asked for dolls, but the majority of them asked for clothes like pants and coats. But necessities like food, toilet paper, blankets — necessities — that’s the biggest needs this year,” said Bob Grasso who, with wife Coren, have offered to do this part of the Costas’ Christmas gift-giving project.
One boy who was asked what he wanted for Christmas said he wanted a bed, said Victoria who is married to the Costas’ brother John.
Another boy asked, “Can I have my own underwear? These people made us cry,” Victoria said.
“One father said, I need a little money for PG&E and I need food,” Grasso said.
Yet another family asked for a heater. They had a portable one but it had quit working. Grasso said the family were given not just a new heater but sleeping bags as well.
“Some of (the people they help) are sleeping on the floor. They don’t have beds. Last year, we had a family that had no beds. We went to Manteca Bedquarters and they gave us a good price on the beds. They even delivered the beds,” said Grasso.
Other local businesses have stepped forward to help as well.
“Two years ago, a couple’s refrigerator went out. We went to Center Plumbing and they gave us a great deal on a refrigerator and even delivered it for us. They were awesome,” Grasso said.
One of the most touching stories they have ever come across was that of a little girl who wore one pair of shoes all year long to school that they were barely wearable. When they went to the girl’s home to bring the gifts to her and the rest of the family, the tearful grandfather came out of a back room and told the children, “See, I told you. If you keep praying, God will supply your every need.”
“They just had a small tree but they had absolutely nothing under the tree,” Grasso recalled.

The difficult of the project
What the Grassos do is the “difficult” part of this Christmas project, Jim Costa said magnanimously.
“What we do is easy compared to what they do,” he said, referring to their procuring of wild-game meat and fish from their annual hunting and fishing safaris throughout Califoria, Idaho and other places. Jim went fishing to Oregon five times this summer for salmon. His smoked salmon, made out of his own original recipe that he has perfected for years, is one of the most popular dishes at the luncheon feed.
The Grassos’ job is to count the money collected during the feed, make the contacts with the schools and churches in the area who refer to them the individuals and families who could really need a hand up, and gather the wish lists. Then they and a crew of volunteers go shopping for these items, wrap each one of them with their appropriate name tags. Finallly, they deliver the gifts to the people’s homes two days before Christmas.
The Grassos get their referrals from various school teachers, because “they know the children that are in need.”  They also work with churches. “They know the husbands who have lost their jobs,” Bob Grasso said.
“What’s neat, too, is that people who volunteer to go out and do these things will want to do it again,” he said.
They started out with a small crew of volunteers made up mainly of people they knew. Today, they have scores of volunteers from the community, including Manteca High School senior Alicia Mejorado, helping out. Mejorado set out to help at the Costa’s Wild Game Feed this year as her senior project but she enjoyed it so much she said she will do it again.
The volunteers are given a folder with a list of gift items to be purchased and wrapped for specific people and families. Once the shopping is done, they have to return the folder complete with the receipts for everything they purchased.
Not a penny is used for overhead or administrative expenses, Grasso said.
“One hundred percent of the money goes to the families,” he said.
But it’s his wife, Caron, who does the lion’s share of the paper work, Grasso emphasized. “Without her, I wouldn’t be here,” he said about his involvement in the philanthropic project.
Like the Costas, Grasso owns and now runs a Manteca business (Grasso Carpet Cleaning) that was started by his father, Frank, who was a contemporary of Joe Costa, Jim and Jessie’s late father who planted the original philanthropic seed from which the wild-game feed evolved. The story is now a familiar one to a lot of people. Joe Costa, who founded Costa’s Automotive, had a Mexican employee at his shop. The man was the sole breadwinner for his wife and their 10 children. But tragedy struck when the man’s wife suddenly left him and their young children. Despite being urged to sign up for welfare to feed and care for his family, the man refused. Desirous to help the struggling family but careful not to hurt the man’s pride, Joe Costa threw a Christmas party for the family and made arrangements for Santa to come and distribute gifts and other basic necessities for the children and their father.

Joe & Mary Costa left a good legacy

After Joe Costa passed away, his sons Jim and Jessie, two of his six children (three girls and three boys) not only took over the business but continued the Good Samaritan work that their father started. Both avid hunters and fishermen, Jim and Jessie donate all the meat and fish that they bring home from their safaris for the Christmas feed, along with all kinds of wild-game meat that dozens of their friends who are also hunters and anglers donate for the cause. These friends even prepare and cook all the food that are served at the feed which now attracts thousands of people each year. Incidentally, the Costas’ sister, Janice Anderson, who sometimes joins her brothers during their hunting expeditions also contributes to this cause. One year, she caught a bear which she herself skinned and then cooked for the event. She also cooked the bear dishes — bear stew and roasted bear — served last Friday at the spacious Manteca Trailer and Camper which has been generously hosting the feed for the last three years to accommodate the large crowds.
Grasso said he was privileged to know the Costa patriarch who started it all.
“He was a giving man. He’d do anything for you. He was an awesome guy. I count it as a joy to have known him. That’s how they (the Costa children) got to be the way they are,” extremely generous like their father, Grasso said.
Victoria, the wife of John Costa who is second to the youngest of the Costa children, said family patriarch Joe and his wife Mary were devout Catholics whose parents came to America from the Azores.
“They left a good legacy,” she said of the Christmas corporal work of mercy that they started.
Post script: Whatever happened to the original family that Joe Costa helped? Jim Costa said he does not know. About all that he knows is that they eventually all went back to Mexico except for the youngest who ended up marrying a young man who was in the service.