‘You Get So Much Joy’


Taylor and Bonnie Fletcher’s Christmas hobby was born nine years ago of overlapping impulses--a deep sense of Christian charity mixed with tinges of guilt over their own success and comfort.

They’ve spent every holiday season since as modern-day Magi, bearing gifts of a full Christmas meal to the homes of complete strangers. No star summons them. Rather, they are drawn to poverty by letters written in response to classified ads they post in their community newspaper offering a free turkey to anyone needy enough to ask.

It is, the couple said, a personal act of faith against the crush of commercialism that has come to shroud one of Christendom’s biggest celebrations.


“We’ve worked hard, have sent our children to good schools and have a nice place,” Taylor Fletcher said last week as he sat in the family room of their hilltop San Clemente home, a Christmas tree twinkling against one wall.

“Then there’s this whole other side of humanity that struggles. You think, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ And we wanted to do something to reach out and touch those lives with our own hands.”

So they have. Over the years, the Fletchers have provided turkeys and the trappings for Christmas meals to dozens of families, some small, some large.

It began as a family project, with their four children helping shop for the food, then pitching in to package and deliver the meals. That was part of the intent, to show the children that beneath the suburban veneer of Southern California can lie heartbreak.

“There were a lot of organizations out there for people who were homeless, but we felt like there was a need of people in the middle that fell through the crack, who maybe had more than nothing but were just hanging on,” Bonnie Fletcher said.

A few times, she said, they’ve delivered food to the homes of their children’s schoolmates. Another time, a young girl speaking only Spanish answered the door of a three-room apartment housing 15 people.


“Her teacher had helped her write the letter,” Bonnie Fletcher said. “That was the one that moved my children the most, to realize how blessed we really are.”

The recipients this year have varied just as widely as in the past. One octogenarian asked for a turkey to host Christmas dinner for other elderly residents of her senior citizens complex.

Another recipient is a single mother of three children and two grandchildren, nominated by her own mother.

“I think it’s just a good gesture,” said Florence Vazquez of Tustin, a part-time caregiver for the elderly who sought a turkey for her daughter. “I believe in helping where you can help. If you can’t help financially, then do it another way.”

Vazquez said she lives that code herself, spending time with residents of a convalescent home. One family pays her to look in on an elderly relative, a former client; Vazquez visits the others on her own.

“Just to go in and say, ‘Hi,’ and give them a hug--it means something,” said Vazquez, who has six adult children. “You can see some of them, they can’t talk but they light up. You can see the expression in their eyes and things. It means a lot.”


The Fletchers enjoy a similar feeling of satisfaction as they drop off the meals. The family tradition continues even after the children have grown and gone, the youngest two off to college in San Diego. The family comes together again this week to take part in what has become an inextricable part of their holiday.

“It would feel like we weren’t having the holiday if we didn’t do it,” said Taylor Fletcher, a partner in a San Clemente teleconference software company. “It’s a tradition, just like putting the tree up.”

They’ve done it largely invisibly. The couple is active in the Pacific Coast Christian Church in San Clemente, but few of their fellow worshipers know about their forays.

The couple does it, they say, to have done it, to have provided a hand to someone who needed it at a time they needed it. The only reason they agreed to talk about their project, they said, is to help spread the word.

And the turkeys.

If publicity leads to a flood of letters, they’ll just have to find a way to make the turkeys go farther.

“We’ve never turned anybody away,” Bonnie Fletcher said. “If something happened and God just dumped a whole bunch of people on us, there are some people who know we do this who’d be willing to help. You get so much joy out of it.”


The ads themselves are simple, nestled among novenas for St. Jude and other spiritual messages that appear in newspaper “announcement” columns. The ads, which the local paper publishes for free in English and Spanish, encourage anyone in need who wants a free turkey to send a letter explaining their circumstances to a post office box.

The Fletchers do not check out the stories that come to them; that would be contrary to an act of faith. All they ask is that they be asked.

“We don’t judge anybody,” Bonnie Fletcher said. “If they take time to write the letter, we let God be the judge. We just take them the food.”

“We don’t want to know people’s private business,” her husband added.

The Fletchers estimate they spend $50 to $60 per meal, packaging together the frozen turkey, rolls, potatoes or yams, canned pumpkin, other staples and a $10 gift certificate for last-minute perishables.

As of Monday, the couple had received five letters, down from a peak of about a dozen a few years ago. In that time they’ve had no repeat requests, which they take as a sign that people aren’t abusing their generosity, though they are curious about what has happened to some of the strangers whose lives they’ve touched.

You almost wish they would ask for more help, Taylor Fletcher said. “You want to follow up on them.”