It’s a Christmas tradition with a little more meaning this year.
Cars started lining up at 6 a.m. Friday morning for Blessing Corner’s Annual Christmas Day Extravaganza, which officially started half an hour before noon. Organizers expected a big turnout this year as families across Bakersfield have struggled to contend with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everything I’ve hoped and dreamed of has failed because of the pandemic,” said Tumeka Baker, who was one of the first few attendees of the event. “This is history we’re going through.”
She said she’d lost her job because of COVID-19 and had had difficulty finding work or pursuing education ever since. But on Friday, she got a little dose of the Christmas spirit when she and her 1-year-old son received a meal and some toys from the local ministry. When asked what the annual giveaway meant for the citizens of Bakersfield, she didn’t hesitate to answer.
“There’s hope for everybody,” she said. “When you see people do stuff like this, it means we’re not alone.”
For more than 20 years, Blessing Corner has been handing out food and presents at the corner of Union Avenue and 1st Street on Christmas day. Normally, the popular event takes place inside, with hundreds of people from across the city gathering for lunch and festive cheer. But because of social distancing requirements, this year was mostly a drive-thru affair. And cars lined up for blocks to take part.
Volunteer Tasha Turner, the daughter of Blessing Corner Co-Pastors John and Bonnie Gillette-Turner, has been participating in the annual extravaganza since she was “knee high to a grasshopper.”
“It’s what I know, giving back, and just sharing the holiday cheer, sharing the true meaning of Christmas and being able to give back to those who are less fortunate,” she said on Friday. “Right now, thanks to the pandemic, it’s even more difficult for families. And so being able to give back to the families, helping to inspire the kids and letting them know that, ‘hey times are hard, but miracles happen every day.’”
Attendees received a full Christmas dinner of turkey, ham, yams, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and soda in addition to household toiletries and toys that included skateboards, bikes and even a few things for infants.
“Every year, I look at it as a true blessing,” said Michael Drummer, who parked his car in place more than five hours early to ensure he, his wife and his six kids were first in line. “Things are really hard for people right now, so things like this are just great.”
The event might even have been a little extra special for Blessing Corner this year as Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, recently recognized it as his district’s nonprofit of the year.
“We’re extremely, extremely proud,” Turner said. “As a volunteer at the organization, I think that it was just a very, very, well-deserved recognition that came at a really, really, beautiful and opportune time. Because we have just been really impactful in the community for over 20 years, but during this time in the pandemic, it’s been just that much more highlighted and essential.”
As volunteers hurried around the ministry’s parking lot on Friday placing bags of food and toys into the trunks of cars, it was clear why some volunteers come year after year to donate their time to this event.
“You get such excitement seeing the expression on people’s faces when you do something for them,” said volunteer Georgina Atchison. “I would say that’s probably my biggest joy.”