The day began at 7 a.m. with people de-boning dozens of hot turkeys cooked for the roughly 3,200 people awaiting a free plate. They’d also enjoy beans, pies, stuffing and rolls.
By 10 a.m., tables heavy with food trays lined the Carnation Street facility’s gymnasium, where volunteers assembled to-go meals in Styrofoam containers and loaded them into cars, trucks and vans for delivery.
Longtime Salvation Army volunteer Paulette Hoskins stood among the joyous chaos singing gospel tunes that echoed through the vast gym. Every now and then, she’d dance.
“I love to do something for the Lord,” Hoskins said. “Lord, I said, if I can just come up here and help somebody, that’s what it’s all about.”
This is the 43rd year the Salvation Army has prepared free Thanksgiving meals for the needy, said volunteer Jennie Lynn Johnson, who had cooked the first meal for the agency in her own kitchen. It served about 100 people.
“You better be careful what you start,” joked Johnson, who still orchestrates the nonprofit’s annual meal.
Among this year’s first-time volunteers were members of the Mystery Ryderzs motorcycle club. President Eric Miller said the group wanted to give back to the community and put smiles on people’s faces.
Said the club’s vice president Michael Stubbs, “We wanted to give out that positive vibe that all motorcycle groups are not gangs. We like to help our community.”
The gym opened for on-site diners at 11 a.m. with hungry men, women and children streaming into the gym for a plate. Some were homeless, others on limited incomes. Many came because they didn’t want to spend the holiday alone.
One woman, said Salvation Army Maj. Sue Dorman, called the agency early Thursday to inquire about a meal. She was elderly and without transportation but didn’t want a plate delivered, either.
“She didn’t want to eat by herself,” Dorman said. “So we had one of our employees drive out to get her and bring her here.
“That’s what we’re here for; we’re the family they don’t have.”
It takes hundreds of volunteers and thousands of dollars to prepare and serve the Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving meal.
“Every little bit,” Johnson said, “is appreciated.”