Pandemic forces changes to Modesto-area holiday helping efforts. How you can take part

·5 min read

The Modesto Gospel Mission and The Salvation Army continue to serve the poor, the hungry and others in need during the coronavirus pandemic even as they’ve had to adjust how they do it.

While the army’s Modesto Corps did not team up with entrepreneur Dan Costa to provide a sit-down Thanksgiving meal for as many as a 1,000 people at Modesto Centre Plaza — an event canceled for the second year in a row — it did work with the Ceres Rotary Club to provide take-out Thanksgiving meals at the army’s Red Shield Center in south Modesto.

More than 400 meals of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and pumpkin pie were handed out to the drivers who pulled up at the center last Friday. This was the second year that the event was held as a drive-through rather than as a sit-down meal at the Red Shield Center.

The Gospel Mission holds its Great Thanksgiving Banquet & Bundle-Up the day before the holiday. Before the pandemic, families would enjoy a sit-down meal and then leave with their choice of jackets, coats, scarves, gloves and hats.

The mission gave out the clothing outdoors last year and the meals were take-out. But the mission planned to have a sit-down meal Wednesday inside its dining room. It expected about 650 people.

Executive Director Jason Conway said last week the mission believed it could hold a safe event by having people line up outside the mission and limiting the number it let into its dining room at any one time.

“We’ll stagger people to allow for physical distancing, allowing so many families in at one time,” Conway said.

But he said that won’t work for Christmas. He said before the pandemic, 1,600 to 2,000 people would come to the mission for a celebration held a couple of days before Christmas. They would get a sit-down meal and gifts.

The mission adjusted for the pandemic last year by having people make an appointment to come there during 10 days before the holiday to pick up gifts for themselves and their children. The 10 days ended about a couple of days before Christmas, and a take-out meal was provided on that day.

Conway said the mission served more than 5,000 people and provided more than 7,400 Christmas gifts. The mission is doing this again this Christmas holiday except it will offer a sit-down meal. But Conway expects only 300 people will come for the meal. He said the greater need is for the gifts.

He said the mission may continue to use this model once the pandemic ends.

Gift cards for teens

“It gives parents the opportunity and dignity to get a Christmas gift without their kids knowing where it came from, wrap it up, and give it them,” he said. He added it puts the focus on the family and not on the mission.

The sign-up period for gifts is planned to start the day after Thanksgiving. People can sign up on the mission’s website,

Conway said the mission needs gifts for teens. The gifts should be in the $25 to $35 range, and gift cards are always a good choice. The Christmas gifts can be dropped off at the mission at any time of the day or night, seven days a week. The mission is at 1400 Yosemite Blvd.

The Gospel Mission also needs monetary donations to help it with its holiday programs as well as the other services it provides throughout the year. Donations can be made at

The Modesto Salvation Army also needs toys for its Christmas program, especially for children 10 to 12 years of age. The army will provide families with holiday food boxes and toys for children 12 and younger on Dec. 21 at the Modesto Junior College West Campus in a drive-through event.

Maj. Harold Laubach said the sign-up period for the program has ended. The army closed it when it reached about 600 children (which represents about 300 families) because it did not believe it could provide toys for more children.

Toys for tweens

But he said there are about 300 children and their families the army won’t be able to serve. He said before the pandemic that number might be 50 or 100 children.

The roughly 600 children and their families are from throughout Stanislaus County except for Turlock, which has its own Salvation Army program.

Laubach said even though people may be back at work the demand for help with rent, utilities and emergency food boxes remains high. “... There is a much higher rate of people asking for help,” he said.

He said people can shop for toys by taking one of the tags from one of the army’s Angel Trees, which are set up in various businesses. The toys need to be new and unwrapped. They can also buy toys and drop them off at the army’s Modesto office, 301 10th St.

Monetary donations can be made at

And starting Friday, the annual giving tree sponsored by Soroptimist International of Modesto and Modesto Sunrise Rotary will be up at Vintage Faire Mall.

The service groups collect names from schools and social service organizations, then get wish lists from participating children. Shoppers can select tags with names and wishes from the tree, purchase the gifts and return them to the tree. More information is available at the Soroptimist’s website.

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