MERCED — The Merced County Rescue Mission is gearing up to feed more than 1,500 people this Christmas Eve -- but they're going to need a holiday miracle to pull it off.
"We're down to the wire," said Pastor Prapai Wanlarbkam. "We have been sending emails to local churches and United Way, and I think we can do it."
The mission needs 200 hams for the Christmas meals, which will include mashed potatoes, vegetables and all the fixings. They've only received about 50 so far.
Last Christmas, the mission served dinner to about 1,000 people, but Wanlarbkam said that number is expected to go up this year because of the rough economy.
"If each person donates just one ham in this community, we'll have more than enough," Wanlarbkam said. "This might be the only ham dinner these people in the community get, so it's very important -- especially for the needy children."
Wanlarbkam said the mission expects a bigger turnout for the Christmas holiday than Thanksgiving because each child who attends will receive a toy.
The mission has about 300 donated toys from a toy drive and the Toys for Tots program. Families can help themselves to donated clothing. Wanlarbkam said any leftover toys will be donated to children in local hospitals, and any leftover hams will be go toward feeding the people at the mission.
The Christmas meal has been a tradition in the community for more than six years, Wanlarbkam said.
"A lot of families look forward to this every year, so it would be a great letdown if we can't do it," said Wanlarbkam. "I don't want to turn anyone away, that's the goal." The dinner will be served from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.
Wanlarbkam said the mission will accept donated hams until the very last minute. Frozen hams can be turned in by Friday and thawed hams will be accepted until Saturday.
Although the mission has many volunteers lined up to serve the meals, they still need a clean-up crew and a special volunteer to dress up as the man in red.
"We need a Santa Claus this year," Wanlarbkam said with a smile. "We are hoping someone will volunteer to help give out the toys to the children."
To make a donation, contact the Merced County Rescue Mission at 1921 Canal St. in Merced or by calling (209) 722-9269.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.