Thousands get early Christmas at mission

More than 2,000 people were lined up around the block at Modesto Gospel Mission Saturday afternoon, waiting their turn to eat a holiday meal and pick up free gifts for their families. People started gathering at 11:30 p.m. Friday at the shelter on Yosemite Boulevard.

"The line is longer and denser than last year," said Gospel Mission Administrator Barbara Deatherage. "We've never run out of gifts. Today, it's so far, so good."

Gladys Ramirez, 21, arrived at 5 a.m. with her aunt, cousin and three young children. They took turns sitting in a heated car while others waited in line. Ramirez and her children had a meal of ham, green beans and sweet potatoes and they took home a frozen turkey to cook on Christmas Day. Her children, ages 1, 3 and 4, picked out a toy laptop and cash register and a backpack filled with school supplies.

"This year, we didn't even have a tree, but it will put a smile on their faces to open the gifts," Ramirez said. "They know what they're getting, but we still wrap them up and they'll still be surprised."

-- Merrill Balassone