Amy and Sean Moloney and their three children have found it takes more than turkey and stuffing to make a Thanksgiving feast: The key ingredient is the giving.

They've turned that philosophy into tradition over several years by serving at the Salvation Army Community Thanksgiving dinner at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 1145 E. Fort Lowell Road.

"I think it is important for our kids to understand that we are very privileged to be in the situation we are in and at any point it could go away - not because of something anyone does, but because of the way the world is," Amy Moloney said.

The children have heard the message loud and clear, particularly 13-year-old Nicole, an eighth-grader at BASIS Tucson.

Nicole said she has learned that homelessness is often hidden and that most of the time "if you walked by these families on the street, you probably wouldn't know."

"But there are kids my sister's age and it is hard to think about them being 6 and 7 or being babies and not having some place to come back to every day where they can feel comfortable," she said.

Last year, Nicole and her siblings, Macdan, 9, and Theona, 6, joined about 100 other volunteers in filling plates, cutting pies, cleaning tables and seating, greeting and serving more than 3,500 meals on Thanksgiving Day.

Volunteers also provide take-home brown bags with sandwiches as well as meal delivery to the homebound.

Even more children and families are expected at the free community dinner this year, Salvation Army spokeswoman Tamara McElwee said.

"I think we are still seeing the ripple effect in the economy of companies that have cut costs. That has trickled down and we are seeing more people affected by these cuts. So we see lots of people who need help who haven't before," she said.

As of last Thursday, the organization had received about 500 donated turkeys - enough to host expected crowds at the Thanksgiving and Christmas community dinners - but more are needed to fill food boxes for 1,500 low-income families through the Christmas assistance program.

Donations of canned goods and other holiday foods have been minimal - at least 500 pies are needed and only about 200 have been donated.

"We haven't seen any 'fixings' for the dinner - fruit such as oranges and bananas, whipped cream and topping, white bread and dinner rolls," McElwee said.

For the Moloneys, giving back has brought added dimension to the holidays.

"Everyone needs to be able to enjoy themselves at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is important to their daily lives," Nicole said. "And these people are no different from us at all. They are just in a different situation."

The Angel Tree Toy Distribution Drive

The Salvation Army hopes to distribute 25,000 toys to 10,000 children in need this year.

The organization needs new, unwrapped board games, electronic toys, bicycles and helmets, sports items, clothing and shoes for children through age 14.

Donations can be dropped at Angel Trees at Park Place mall, Foothills Mall and Tucson Mall or at The Salvation Army, 1001 N. Richey Blvd., and The Hospitality House, 1021 N. 11th Ave.

Organizers also need a 15,000- to 25,000-square-foot facility to use as a temporary "Santa's Toy Shop" in which to store and assemble the toys.

For more information, call 795-9671.

If You Go

What: 26th Annual Salvation Army Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

When: 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Where: St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 1145 E. Fort Lowell Road.

Cost: Free.

Donate: The Salvation Army still needs frozen pre-baked pies, instant potatoes, heat-and-serve dinner rolls, gallons of milk, eggs, whipped cream or topping and other holiday food items. Donations can be dropped off at The Salvation Army, 1001 N. Richey Blvd., and The Hospitality House, 1021 N. 11th Ave.

Volunteer: Volunteers are still needed to help with the Christmas dinner. For more information, call 795-9671.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at