Feast of Sharing fills more than stomachs (Video)
Dec. 20, 2012 at 6:20 a.m.
Updated Dec. 21, 2012 at 6:21 a.m.
Jose Villarreal strummed the plastic knife and fork steadily with his motor oil-stained hands, slowly cutting into a slice of glazed ham.
"I think I'll call it off at three plates," the 49-year-old Victoria resident said, a smile then breaking across his face at the 22nd annual H-E-B Feast of Sharing on Thursday.
Villarreal felt warm - protected from the outside elements by his olive-colored tweed coat and warmed by the hospitality of the more than 300 volunteers passing out fully-loaded dinner plates.
This Christmas has been particularly difficult. That's not to say the past haven't been difficult as well.
Villarreal has had no source of income since March. His two daughters are with their mother in Beeville, while he waits to hear if perhaps the new year will just be a little brighter. He is waiting to see if his case will be approved for Social Security Insurance and disability.
"It's a struggle. Without the help of family and friends, I'd find it nearly impossible to survive," Villarreal said.
Villarreal cannot remember how many times he's joined the feast, but it's been a long time, he said. For people like Villarreal, community support is what helps lives keep going.
For now, Villarreal relies on not only the help from family and friends, but from Christ's Kitchen, where he gets his meals every day, and the churches, like Trinity Episcopal Church, which donated gifts to him so he could give something for his daughters.
"It's a blessing," he said. "There is a lot of help out there, all we need to do is reach out. We can't ever be too proud when in need."
Volunteers surfed through the mobs of people walking throughout the Victoria Community Center, doing anything and everything they could to help.
From adults and area businesses to even schools, the help seemed endless.
Abram Hinojosa, 8, a third-grader on the student council at Schorlemmer Elementary School, was helping seat feast newcomers.
"Basically I just do it because it's my routine," Abram said, holding his "seating" flag high. "I just do it for fun ... I like helping out."
Nearby, Samantha Castillo, 25, of Houston, and Amanda Bartlett, 22, of Yorktown, had just finished their meals and couldn't eat another bite.
This Christmas has been hard for Castillo and Bartlett. Castillo has no family in the area and was recently evicted from her home.
Bartlett is finding this Christmas hard because she now has one more child and her husband is working less hours in the oil field, she said.
Bartlett was happy her three children were able to get some more gifts to put under the Christmas tree from Santa Claus, who made a special appearance at the feast.
"Any little bit here and there adds up to a better Christmas," Bartlett said.
This year, about 3,800 plates were served, which is down from years past, said Gus Kroos, chairman of the feast.
"I can't tell you why it was down. It's anyone's guess," Kroos said, citing school being let out later this year may have contributed to the down number. "Still, H-E-B is very committed to the community and I enjoy and appreciate being part of that."
Castillo said she feels the job was done well and was simply happy to have a delicious meal, coupled with live entertainment.
"These people (volunteers) do it because they want to," she said. "It shows there is still good people out there."