U.S. Army National Guard Private Second Class Krystal Truschke and Marine Corps Lance Corporal Larry Voigt could have easily stayed home on Christmas Day.
But Truschke and Voigt represented the very best in the American holiday spirit, donating some of their valuable leave time to serve food at Turlock's Salvation Army.
“There is no other way I would spend my Christmas,” said Truschke, a Turlock native stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri who volunteered for the first time last year. This year she brought along her mother Tammie.
Both service members, on leave for the holiday season, spent much of their Christmas Days volunteering at Turlock's Salvation Army to help feed the very people they are sworn to protect – regardless of the their housing situation or economic status.
Hundreds of people were treated to a free Christmas dinner with all the fixings, including turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread rolls and pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top. All of the food came from donations by local citizens, businesses and organizations. Families received free pictures with Santa, a Modesto Wedding DJ and children were treated to gifts and fun activities.
“A lot of people here are stretching their budget, or they are alone and no one should be alone on Christmas. That is what this is all about, giving to those in need on this special day,” said Salvation Army Major Debi Shrum.
For many volunteers, sacrificing a few hours on Christmas has become a tradition. Cheryl Cruz, a mother of four children, asked her kids what they wanted to do on Christmas. They told her they wanted to volunteer at the Salvation Army dinner. Her youngest, Briahnna, 4, handed out salt packets.
Husband and wife volunteers Peter and Melanie Perez joined with members from All-Saints Catholic Church to supply much-needed waiting skills.
While most people would consider cooking for their family on Christmas quite the chore, volunteer Marhsall Perez spent his Christmas slicing about 500 pounds of Turkey on a meat-slicing machine.
Fellow volunteer Trina Walley, who has sacrificed four years of Christmas afternoons, spent the day printing up pictures for families who simply couldn’t run to the mall to grab a photo with Santa.
Then, of course, there are the ultimate Christmas dinner volunteers – Dorthy Walker and her husband Tony, who in the past 14 years have never taken a Christmas off from the Salvation Army dinner. Shrum credits Walker with being the brains and brawn behind the entire operation.
“She is how this all happens. She is the one in charge and the one who organizes the entire dinner.”