David and Cynthia Moya bring joy to many during the holiday season

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Almost a decade ago, as Christmas was approaching, Belenites David and Cynthia Moya were mulling over what to do on that special day.

Since their two daughters had left the nest, it would just be the happy couple of 32 years.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Proud owners of the Sheriff’s Posse Cafe, David and Cynthia Moya, along with many volunteers host a Christmas dinner that is free to any who want to come by the restaurant. The Moyas buy and cook enough food to feed about 150 people.

Cynthia suggested they stay in and watch a movie.

David countered with, “Why don’t we feed some people?”

And that was how a humble man began a Christmas tradition of feeding not only those in need, but people simply seeking a friendly face at an otherwise lonely time of year.

Described as “very humble” by his wife, David is a thin, wiry man with a quiet demeanor. Cynthia tells most of the story about how David decided it was time to help. About how he opened up the Sheriff’s Posse Cafe to families in need of a meal and never expected a thing in return.

No money changes hands — David steadfastly refuses payment from anyone, even from those who want to and can afford it. The cost of the food for the meal comes out of their pockets.

In the last eight-plus years, the Moyas have served Christmas dinner, word has spread, and the event now draws in travelers away from their families and senior citizens who have no one to dine with.

“I’ve seen strangers sit together, and they end up talking and laughing,” Cynthia said. “They become friends for that day.”

That day is a day of good food — a full Christmas meal of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, dessert and homemade posole. And, of course, no holiday feast is complete without some traditional New Mexico red chile.

The five-hour dinner is more than just food.

“When we started this, he said, ‘Why don’t you go to Walmart, see if they’ll donate some toys,’” Cynthia remembers.

The retailer was happy to help, she said, so every year when Santa Claus puts in an appearance, he has something to hand out to any good little boys and girls who come to dinner.

And since no celebration is complete without music, the Special Orchestra volunteers its time. David said in recent years they have added a disc jockey as well.

In the restaurant business at the Sheriff’s Posse Cafe since 1951, David is used to cooking for large groups, thinking nothing of something like putting together an enchilada dinner for 300 people.

Every year, he cooks for about 150 people. The free dinner draws between 50 and 75 people, depending in some part on just what the economy has been up to that year, Cynthia said.

And the army of volunteers who come out to help don’t go away hungry either.

“People just show up, without having to be asked,” Cynthia said. “We don’t even have to call them. Sometimes we have more volunteers than guests.”

Some volunteers have become regulars, such as state Sen. Michael Sanchez and his family. They bring the desserts and the senator helps David carve the turkeys.

Valencia County Clerk Peggy Carabajal and her husband, Gene, have been helping for many years, before Peggy was an elected official, the couple said.

Many of the restaurant employees spend their day off helping, the Moyas said, and some, such as Linda Bland donate food. Bland, who has worked at the restaurant going on 10 years, bakes all the pies and bread for the dinner. The first year David held the dinner, Bland said she didn’t even know it was happening.

“I just happened to stop by,” Bland said.

With her own family to spend Christmas with, she volunteered to drop off the baked goods.

“When I realized what he was doing, I just thought, ‘Cool. That’s David,’” she said, smiling.

While the dinner started as a way to give something to the needy, anyone is welcome, the Moyas say. People without a family, seniors, travelers.

Cynthia remembers one year, a couple passing through fought tooth and nail to pay for the meal. They were unsuccessful.

A few weeks later, a box came in the mail, full of goodies from Hawaii.

“I don’t remember if that’s where they lived or where they were going, but they sent something back,” she said.

While David is quiet about what he does, his giving nature isn’t completely without precedent.

A member of the New Mexico Board of Realtors, David said the organization always did a Christmas toy drive. And when his mother owned Kaps Restaurant in Albuquerque, she always hosted a free Thanksgiving Day dinner.

When he is asked why he does the dinner, David gives an almost-glib answer.

“We have a place. We might as well do something,” David said softly. “And we’ll keep doing this as long as I have a place.”

But after he sits for a few minutes, he continues, saying he wants to “cook where it matters.”

“If you think about other places in the world where there are people who are happy to get a bowl of rice out of a 50-gallon drum,” he said. “In the restaurant business, you see a lot of spoiled people.”

The couple’s willingness to volunteer seems to bring out the helping nature in others. David said this year the county fair queen candidates will help to serve the meals as part of their community service.

“When you see a need, you need to try to fill it,” Cynthia said.

That was something she, an Albuquerque native, saw when she moved to Belen with David three decades ago — neighbors helping neighbors, filling needs.

“We moved into an older house and before I knew it, two ladies showed up to help me paint because they knew it needed to be done,” she said. “When you see a need, we all have to step up and help.”

As with all good deeds, David says it does feel good to help.

“It feels good to do something for someone else,” he said. “It’s something we should all do. It’s just more satisfying.”


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.