Free lunch fills volunteers with holiday cheer

Freedom New Mexico: Clarence Plank Joey Garcia, right, puts together a plate lunch Friday before heading to the kitchen to cook more food. This is the sixth year for the free Christmas dinner at El Rancho.

By Clarence Plank: Freedom New Mexico

Volunteers helping with a free Christmas dinner Friday at El Rancho Restaurant say the opportunity to help the community is more than enough reward.

Eva McAfoos has been serving the Portales community for five years at the annual free dinner hosted by the Garcia family.

“I used to work at the police department before I retired,” McAfoos said. “I love coming down here and helping. We came out to eat and I started volunteering.”

McAfoos serves the ham and turkey to people as they go down the line filling their plate. She also helps with the buffet.

McAfoos said the smiles and gratitude of those she serves is what she enjoys seeing.

Most of the 15 volunteers are family and friends of the Garcia family. Adrian Cota volunteered his time to deliver lunch to people at home. Cota’s Christmas plans changed so he decided to help out.

“This is my first year volunteering,” Cota said. “I had plans and they got canceled. I don’t have any children here or anything. So I was looking for something I could do to give back to the people who come to visit my restaurant.”

Cota is the manager of McDonald’s in Portales and sees many of the people who eat at his place.

“I’ve made a couple of deliveries today,” Cota said. “Things have been kind of slow, but we’re looking to help those that are pretty much homebound.”

The buffet had ham, turkey, red chili, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, dressing, cranberry sauce, rolls and a dessert.

Joey Garcia said he thinks more than 100 people came to eat.

“We’ve had a pretty steady flow coming in,” Garcia said. “We haven’t had a big rush yet, a lot of people are taking the food to go.”

Garcia said volunteers include customers who want to help.

“They call and ask if they could come and what can they do,” Garcia said. “I let the volunteers come and serve the community. I kind of feel in a sense that this is what they should do and have that interaction with the community they are serving.”

Jerry Knoll of Topeka, Kan., was visiting his brother, John Knoll. This was their first Christmas dinner at El Rancho.

“I think the volunteers are top notch,” Knoll said. “They have given up some of their day to make this a good holiday for everyone else.”