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Holiday cheer for thousands in Santa Rosa

Tyler Kish, 8, makes a wreath Saturday at the arts and crafts table during the Christmas Celebration held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds

CRISTA JEREMIASON / THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 7:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 7:24 p.m.

Kenny Lambert kept on his knit hat but shed his shoes and socks Saturday, rolled up his pant legs and settled into a chair to soak his feet in a warm foot bath, one of several lined up in a corner of Grace Pavilion at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

His jacket and backpack lay nearby, evidence of a life on the road that led him from the Pacific Northwest to Santa Rosa five days earlier, unaware he'd be receiving soothing foot care from a complete stranger within the week.

But it was, he said, an “awesome” luxury to be treated to the services available Saturday as part of the annual celebration and feast hosted by the Redwood Gospel Mission and Salvation Army at the fairgrounds.

“They have stuff like this in Tacoma and Seattle,” said Lambert, 30. “But it's nothing like this.”

Around the cavernous building, hundreds of people in need lined up for services that might otherwise be beyond reach — haircuts, warm coats, pictures with Santa, Christmas trees, bags of presents, boxed food — all provided by volunteers eager to serve.

Saul Urbano, a Santa Rosa man who came with his wife and two daughters, said it was like many blessings all at once.

“The environment is awesome,” said Monica Briceno, 28, also of Santa Rosa. “Everybody treats you with kindness and respect.”

Stations around the building included face painting and a jumpy house for kids; clothing racks with 1,000 donated coats and jackets for all comers; an area where St. Joseph's Health personnel offered free blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose screening, as well as flu shots and referrals for free or affordable follow-up care when problems are detected.

“Unfortunately, lot of people have abnormal results,” said Jackie Williams, a supervisor with the St. Joseph's Mobile Health Clinic.

Frank Rundle, 74, enjoyed getting a free haircut and beard trim, as well as heavy coat to help keep him warm.

Eleven hundred families who registered in advance received sacks of toys bought especially for the children in their homes, as well as food boxes with roasting chickens and the fixings for traditional Christmas meals, courtesy of the Salvation Army.

In a separate building, volunteers served up 3,000 turkey dinners.

“It's wonderful,” said Nina Gonzalez, whose 8-month-old baby bounced in her arms, “because we don't have a lot of money this year. We got toys for the baby.”

Moses Scott, 52, and his brother, Peter Scott, 50, said it was nice just to get in some place warm and enjoy a hot meal.

“It's the best thing to have right now,” the younger brother said. “It's cold out.”

Larry Frakes of Sonoma, whose wife Barbara has coordinated donations and distribution of coats for the past four years, said the event's growth and the loyalty of volunteers has been “just amazing.”

“It's a huge, huge project,” said Sammie Williams, a retired hairdresser who has volunteered at the event for about a decade. “I don't know how they do it all.”

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