Portales residents line up for community dinner

Freedom New Mexico: Clarence Plank Melvin McAfoos, right, talks to a little boy Saturday after snatching a dessert from the bar to take to a customer during the rush at El Rancho Restaurant’s annual free Christmas dinner.

Clarence Plank

The seventh annual free Christmas dinner at El Rancho Restaurant Saturday was a time for many to be with family, friends and enjoy a hot meal.

The event saw 164 people in just the first two hours. The four-hour event usually draws 300-400 people each year and a final count will be announced later.

John Rosales said people were lining up long before the restaurant opened at 11 a.m.

“Joe Garcia started this and I think it was a kind hearted thing for him to do,” Rosales said. “We’re good friends of the family and we saw what they were doing, and we wanted to be a part of it.”

Rosales said he takes pictures for the Garcia family and puts them on a CD while his wife helps serve food.

Wynella Shaw of Portales has been coming to the Christmas dinner since it started. She bakes desserts for the dinner and usually spends time talking to people she knows from her job selling Avon products.

“If my son doesn’t come in from Colorado, I come here so I have some place to go and not spend Christmas alone,” Shaw said. “Just because Portales is a small town doesn’t mean you get to see everybody. I come here and I see people that I know.”

Norene Weigl is a retired teacher from Fort Sumner who is substituting at R. M. James Elementary School. Weigl said the dinner is a great idea.

“I have family, but they all live in different directions,” Weigl said. “There’s usually snow between here and there because they live up in Colorado Springs, Colo. This is great because this gives me a chance to come and eat dinner with people I know.”