Cesar Gonzales remembers what it was like coming to America from the Philippines as an 18-year-old with just a quarter in his pocket for him to call his dad once he arrived.
But upon landing in San Francisco he found he’d lost that quarter, and was grateful to the woman who gave him one for the payphone so he could reach his family.
She was the first of many people to help Gonzales in the U.S. as he worked three jobs and took a decade and a half of night classes to earn degrees and start a successful career in finance.
And now Gonzales, 51, is committed to helping others.
On Saturday he hosted his fourth annual Holiday Soup Kitchen at The Gables at Stirling Guest Hotel, the hotel and event venue he co-owns on Centre Avenue in Reading.
He expected between 500 and 700 people from five Berks County nonprofit agencies to attend, with about 80 volunteers helping him to make it happen.
Those who came out enjoyed a holiday feast cooked on-premise, and were allowed to take with them items that were donated, including toys, clothes and non-perishable foods.
For Kayla Rivera, her three-year-old son Yesiel, and two-year-old daughter Elena, it was a special day they were thankful for.
They are clients of Hannah’s Hope Ministry of Reading, a transitional home that allows single others and their children to live there and assists them in getting back on their feet.
The children were wide-eyed as they met Santa Claus and picked from the many presents and clothes available, and Rivera was looking forward to a great meal.
“It feels heartwarming to me,” she said. “It’s very kind of everyone to do this.”
It is the fourth time Gonzales has held the holiday event since he bought the historic building in 2019, with 2020 being the only exception due to the pandemic. It’s part of his focus on serving the community, he said.
For example, a number of the children who attended are students from nearby Riverside Elementary School who walk by the inn daily, and it’s only right that they should get to enjoy it too, he said.
“It’s a special place,” he said.
Gonzales said the volunteer efforts on Saturday made the event more meaningful to those who attended. He said those who gave their time and energy – some for two long days – were happy to do so.
“You have to pay it forward,” he said. “Everyone will sleep well tonight.”
Among the volunteers were about a dozen from Hope on Girard, a recovery program based in Philadelphia.
“We believe that being of service to others is an adventure. We get to do something good for others while feeling good about it,” said co-founder Philip Stevenson.
“It makes me feel joyous,” agreed member JoJo Bukenas.
Alexis Verbin, a Hope on Girard client who came with her five-year-old son Mahlon, was appreciative of those efforts.
“It’s nice being able to come to a mansion, and to take something home with us,” she said. “It’s really, really nice that they do this.”
Source: Berkshire mont