Hundreds of people grabbed a meal Thursday with no money changing hands — just the occasional, “Please,” and, “Thank you,” offered instead.
Some were families, some were friends, and some were just becoming friends at the 20 tables set up with construction-paper hand turkeys and other festive decor.
Whether eating or serving, many have learned to enjoy the free community Thanksgiving meal at the Memorial Building and delivered across the city.
“It’s seeing the people that couldn’t (otherwise) have Thanksgiving enjoying it,” organizer Elvia Garcia said. “To me, that’s the biggest enjoyment.”
In all, 80 turkeys were served, with side items measured in gallons and dozens. The food was expected to feed 300 to 500 at the building and another 200 across Portales with plates delivered by volunteers.
The free meal is in its 16th year, and its eighth as a community event. For its first eight years, it was affiliated with St. Helen Catholic Church.
“My dad showed us how to give thanks,” organizer Elvia Garcia said. “He passed away, and the next year, we got together again and gave thanks.”
Garcia said about 50 people were served and 140 meals were delivered at that first meal. It’s grown into an event that now takes about 100 volunteers before the 11 a.m. start and well past the 2 p.m. finish.
Organizers start putting food and financial donations together about 10 weeks before Thanksgiving, but they somehow always end up needing a grocery store run to get extra butter or whipped cream topping.
Some show up just Wednesday night to decorate, and others are there from 7 a.m. Thursday until the late afternoon cleanup.
The end result is a turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes (instant, organizer Joe Parie said, due to drought conditions limiting the crop) and gravy, green beans and corn, ham and rolls. On a side table were beverages, and on another a variety of desserts — though the pecan pie was gone well before noon.
The crowd ranges from people who wouldn’t have otherwise had a meal to people just grabbing a small meal before a bigger one later that day.
Individuals and businesses donate what they can, even if it requires some creative usage. To-go meals, for example, had desserts packed into McDonald’s Big Mac cartons.
B.K. Sanders and his wife Dorothy have always been big donors to the event.
“You see everyone you know,” Sanders said. “Not to mention, but the food’s good too.”