Photo gallery: Salvation Army Christmas lunch in San Bernardino
SAN BERNARDINO -- Nikole De La Cruz wants to show her son the true meaning of Christmas.
On Tuesday, she and her 10-year-old son, Christopher Russell, were passing out slices of pumpkin pie at the Salvation Army's 125th annual Christmas luncheon.
While this was De La Cruz's third time volunteering, it was her son's first.
"It's not just about what's under the tree, it's about helping out others who are less fortunate," said the Colton resident.
De La Cruz and her son were among the many volunteers who served about 300 hot meals at the center on Fifth Street.
Plates were piled high with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and stuffing. Smaller plates of mixed salad and desserts were also prepared.
About 80percent of those receiving lunch on Tuesday visit the center about six days a week for a meal, said Maj. Steve Ball, director of the San Bernardino corps.
"But this is more elegant and special," he said.
The dining hall was busy with volunteers seating and serving.
One-man band Luis Gonzalez was also busy spreading holiday cheer by playing about 40 tunes on his piano and trumpet.
Gonzalez, a music teacher at Colton High School, has been volunteering at the Salvation Army for more than a dozen years.
"A lot of people who come here just want a hug or want you to hold their hand and wish them a Merry Christmas," said the Colton resident.
Wishing those who served him food a "Merry Christmas" before walking out of the hall was Raul Garza.
"It might not look like much to a lot of people but it's a lot to those who are less fortunate," said Garza, who said he was "passing through" San Bernardino.
Elaine Murphy and her three grandchildren were also at the center. She said she is staying in a motel room and is hoping to find a home soon.
"I'm so grateful for today's meal. In a way it feels more like Christmas because otherwise it wouldn't," said Murphy, 42, of San Bernardino.
She was especially happy because hours before lunch she was able to pick out a couple of outfits and toys for her grandkids, courtesy of Jan and Rodney Reid.
In the parking lot of the Salvation Army, the Reids set up dozens of tables filled with clothing, shoes, toys, boxed food, toiletries as well as other basic necessities.
The couple started donating such items 13 years ago after their kids grew old of their toys.
The Reids had 25 volunteers on Tuesday assisting those looking for an extra jacket or sweater to keep warm.
"It's a great feeling to give back, especially in San Bernardino," said Rodney Reid. "People need to eat, they need clothes and if they need help we'll do it."