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Cooking Up the True Meaning of Christmas

What goes around comes around, observes Bonnie Guthrie, proprietor of the Coffee Cup restaurant in South Gate. That being true, Guthrie and her husband, Victor Torres, will probably win the lottery next week. Or at least get an extra bag of toys from Santa Claus on Christmas Day.

Despite working 60 and 70 hours a week this holiday season, Guthrie and Torres will stay up all night Christmas Eve cooking dinner for 350.

Then the two will load the food into their catering truck and get it over to the South Gate Parkview Foursquare Church the next morning for the city of South Gate’s first free community Christmas dinner for the needy, homeless or just plain lonely.

Guthrie and Torres will use a decade’s worth of experience in the restaurant business to serve up turkey with bread dressing, baked ham with pineapple glaze, real potatoes and gravy, fresh vegetables, rolls, cakes, pies, pumpkin and banana breads, and beverages. City officials, community volunteers, the Coffee Cup staff and Joel Henry Guthrie Torres, the couple’s 5-year-old son, will help serve and clear at the all-volunteer meal.

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Guthrie and Torres got involved with the dinner after the city received several thousand dollars from the Lido restaurant in South Gate to throw a free Thanksgiving dinner in November. The city wanted to hire Guthrie and Torres to cater the meal.

“It goes against my grain to make money on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Guthrie said, “so I really didn’t want to do it. But then my husband said, ‘Well, why don’t we do it for free?’ And so we did.”

After the success of the Thanksgiving Day dinner, the city and the Lido restaurant decided to do the same for Christmas. Guthrie and Torres had such a wonderful experience on Thanksgiving, they signed on again.

“But really, the real reason we do,” Guthrie said, “is for our son.”

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The couple were hesitant at first to bring Joel to the Thanksgiving dinner “because we didn’t know what kind of people to expect. We knew there would be a lot of homeless people and, well, we just didn’t know what they’d be like. But once we got there and we saw all the mothers with children and found out how nice everyone is, what kind of people were there, we went and picked him up from grandma’s.”

And something wonderful happened, Guthrie said.

“As soon as my son saw all the children, he said, ‘Mama, it must be bath time for these kids!’

“I tried to explain to him, no, most of these kids don’t have a home or a bath. ‘Then they must not have any toys!’ he said.

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“So he went to the car and searched around for his Ninja Turtles. You have to understand how important Ninja Turtles are to a 5-year-old. When his cousins leave our house, he counts them to make sure nobody walked away with any.

“So he gets all the Ninja Turtles from the car, comes back and starts giving them to the children. I was so proud!” Guthrie said.

“My child is very lucky, he’s very blessed, he has every opportunity in the world. It’s important that he know not everyone has what he has.”

And that, said Guthrie, is the true meaning of Christmas.

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In addition to welcoming anyone who shows up between noon and 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at the church banquet room, 9512 Pinehurst Ave. (across the street from South Gate Park), city officials will roam the streets in a van to pick up those in need of a ride.

Anyone who wants to volunteer to help should drop by the church Christmas morning, said Maureen O’Connor, a South Gate city official, or call (213) 563-9532.


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