What do Charlton Heston, Henry Winkler, Mary McDonnell, Erik Estrada, Santa Claus and 2-year old Tyz Gardner all have in common? They were all part of a celebration of giving at the Los Angeles Mission this past Christmas Eve. More than 4,000 homeless and hungry men, women and kids lined up with over 300 volunteers for a traditional Christmas meal complete with all the trimmings.

In recent years, Heston gave his own gift to the homeless when he delivered a powerful and moving rendition of the Christmas story. This year, the legendary star brought his grandson, Jack. "I'm serving today because my grandpa told me that not everybody lives in Beverly Hills and has enough to eat. He told me I need to get out here and see what the world is like , and not to be picky or greedy."

That's what it's all about. The meal was provided by philanthropist James Comisar, 34, of Beverly Hills, and his friends Tim Truman and Michael Libow. This Christmas, Comisar also played Santa Claus as he intercepted letters at the local post office addressed to the North Pole from needy children, who were asking for such simple things as a new pair of shoes or crayons. He responded to those letters by sending care packages from Santa.

Have a CHiP--Christmas Helper in Padding? Erik Estrada came bearing gifts, too, donning an extra few pounds, a beard and his best uniform--this time, red, white and fuzzy--as he became Santa for the day, much to the delight of the children who lined up to tell Santa--in English and Spanish--whether they've been naughty or nice. Erik's wife and two sons were on hand to give out more than 1,500 toys, donated by Disney and church and service organizations, to the skidrows kids.

And there was a treat for all when legendary composer Ray Conniff, who's responsible for classic seasonal tunes such as "Jingle Bells," "White Christmas," and "Here Comes Santa Claus," turned up, along with notables Elliott Gould, Harry Anderson, Mary McDonnell, among others. It was a fun and poignant moment when people started singing his songs in the service line, and 82-year old Conniff stepped out to conduct.

For Juan Mena, an unemployed construction worker, the meal was the only Christmas celebration he could offer his five children. "Times are tough," said Mena, 43. "It would be a sad Christmas without this." As she watched the smile spread across her 2-year old daughter's face, 20-year old Seville Gardner agreed. "Between trying to go to school and get her child care, we don't have alcohol. We want to show you that we care and want to make a way for self sufficiency and productivity--to teach people the skills they need to start over."

Indeed, the Mission delivers more than a handout. Facilities which help those who help themselves include a computerized literacy center, an occupational trade center, classrooms, a library, laundry facilities, a chapel, a meditation room, a study room, and a prayer room. Services include primary medical, dental and eye care, counseling and spiritual guidance, HIV testing, 11,000 articles of clothing per month, showers and shaves for up to 2,500 people per month, up to 2,000 meals per day and 8,000 nights of shelter per month.

The LA Mission's next big public event is for Easter and takes place on Sat., April 3. In addition to donations, volunteers are always needed. If you're in Los Angeles and want to volunteer, call 213.629.1227, extension 301.

This month, whether it's at the Mission or somewhere more local to you, let's count ourselves among the number who step out, and as 7 year-old Jack Heston says, "see what the world is like, and not be greedy or picky."

You’ll be glad you did.

To make a tax-deductible donation to the Los Angeles Mission, call 323.262.3500 and ask for Kathy Loven.

If you or someone you know is doing something great for the world, let us know. We’d love to publicize it in this column.

Chase's salary for her column this month has been donated to the LA Mission.

See for information on Chase’s fundraising activities.

ISSUE 12.2 - JANUARY 22, 1999

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