STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
On Christmas Eve, Damian Haller, 26, and his girlfriend Shaley Murphy, 20, made a fire and watched the movie “Avatar” in the comfort of a home they were house-sitting.
On Saturday, the homeless couple will be back on the street, living in a station wagon.
Christmas Day was a time to forget their troubles with a holiday dinner and free gifts at the Manna Soup Kitchen’s traditional Christmas celebration for the community.
Haller especially liked the dessert.
“It was sweet potato pie with walnuts. It was pretty good,” Haller said.
The couple, who recently found jobs in fast-food restaurants, said life was looking up.
Manna Soup Kitchen made sure that everybody who wanted a Christmas celebration got one, anticipating serving as many as 300 Tuesday. The atmosphere was festive with a wedding-style tent set up with space heaters to handle the overflow from the dining room.
“We have enough presents to give three to probably each person,” said Tom Everette, chairman of the Manna board. “The community has been so generous, for kids and adults.”
Gifts included coats, blankets and socks for adults and plush polar bears, toy fire trucks and dolls for boys and girls.
It was a Christmas dinner with an “all-the-works” menu, including mashed potatoes, green-bean casserole, cream corn, macaroni and cheese and stuffing. A dessert table was decorated with a 3-foot-tall chocolate Santa.
Clark Kinser, a volunteer, said he needed to “shoehorn” two hind quarters of beef, weighing 60 pounds apiece, to get them in the oven.
Usually, Kinser has a smoker to cook Tennessee-style ribs, but Manna Soup Kitchen decided to scale down its Christmas celebration this year, choosing not to go to the fairgrounds.
Executive Director Sara Wakefield said Manna wanted to focus its mission on serving the less fortunate. The organization also has had some staff member changes.
Warren Smith, former kitchen manager, resigned in October, Everette said. Everette said he understood that Smith wants to go to Phoenix to start an Italian restaurant.
Darcy Cole, the volunteer coordinator, then was promoted to kitchen manager, but she did not think the Christmas celebration was too difficult to organize.
“You know what? It really was not so bad,” Cole said. “You know we feed 120 people every day. So we pretty much multiplied (the amount of food to make) by three. You can make food up to seven days in advance (to be within regulatory food-preparation guidelines), so we actually started cooking last Thursday.”
About 20 percent of Manna’s patrons are homeless. Many have jobs, too.
On a regular basis, “we have a lot of construction people who have to be work by 7 a.m., so we open (for breakfast) by 6 a.m.,” Kinser said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Kinser, who was cooking 16 turkeys by 4 a.m. Christmas morning, was not suffering from holiday burnout.
“You get high helping these people,” Kinser said. “It’s a high in itself helping others who are not as fortunate as we are.”