It's only a few days till the cooking begins, and the Salvation Army lacks about 470 turkeys needed to provide more than 4,000 Thanksgiving meals and holiday dinners to people in need.

In South Tucson, the bird count is equally dismal: Luz Social Services has zero of the 120 turkeys needed to feed an expected crowd of 1,800 hungry and homeless at the Thanksgiving in the Barrio Celebration on Nov. 22.

"Donations were bad last year, but this is beyond sad. I am really, really scared, but we will not cancel the event. For a lot of people, this is the only Thanksgiving they have," said Mary Ornelas, program director for Luz Social Services, a nonprofit agency that provides outreach in health and human services, education and social and personal development for the Hispanic community.

The crowd at Thanksgiving in the Barrio includes not only single parents and their children, but also many seniors and homeless people. Over the past few years, it has also included large numbers of families who are struggling to make ends meet, Ornelas said.

"There are more and more parents coming to us and saying, 'We need help. We don't have food,' or 'My husband lost his job,' " she said. "We think unemployment has triggered such need right now for these families. They can get work for a couple of weeks and then it stops. A lot of people clean houses or provide services in that area and people are cutting back on those things that are considered luxuries now."

Salvation Army public relations director Tamara McElwee agreed that the weak economy continues to affect once-stable families. More and more families and children, as opposed to the chronic homeless population, are accessing services.

"I think a lot of companies have regrouped and cut providers and services to cut costs, and that has affected smaller-business people, who have had to let employees go. Some of the people who used to help us with donations are not able to anymore and some actually need help themselves. I see many new faces having to ask for help, and it is difficult for these people who have held jobs to reach out," McElwee said.

Volunteering for agencies such as the Salvation Army can provide teachable moments for everyone in the community, according to Joanna McCright. She and her daughter, Chandi, 15, have volunteered for years with the organization, helping with tasks ranging from decorating for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to helping with a fashion show and contributing to holiday toy drives.

"As a mother and daughter, this is something we can share that is good for the community and goes beyond just our home. Community service is very important, and it is great for Chandi to see me doing it and for us to do it together. She realizes life is not all about just what someone can do for me," Joanna said.

Chandi, a freshman at Salpointe Catholic High School and the National American Miss Arizona Junior Teen Queen, said volunteering is an experience she has come to increasingly value.

"When I was younger and we helped with the Christmas dinners, I wasn't always happy about it. I wanted to open my presents. Now that I'm older, I am really glad we do it," said Chandi, who also packs candy to send to troops overseas for the Treats for Troops program and has rallied other National American Miss Queens from throughout Arizona to assist with the Stuff the Hummers Toy Drive and Parade here on Dec. 10.

Overall, McElwee is optimistic that generous volunteers and donors like the McCrights will help make a happy Thanksgiving and holiday season for the less fortunate.

"Tucsonans are really generous and have always come through for us," she said. But "a concern at this point in the game is that we will have to take budget dollars from other programs to purchase enough food to provide for people who need help."

Put the 'giving' in Thanksgiving:

How you can help

What: The 27th Annual Salvation Army Community Thanksgiving Dinner

When: 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Nov. 24

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

Cost: Free

Details: The Salvation Army needs nearly 500 frozen turkeys and 500 frozen, pre-baked pumpkin and fruit pies. It also needs instant potatoes, heat-and-serve dinner rolls, gallons of milk, eggs, whipped cream or topping and other holiday food items.

Donations can be dropped at the Salvation Army, 1001 N. Richey Blvd., and the Hospitality House, 1021 N. 11th Ave.

Cash contributions can be mailed to 1001 N. Richey Blvd., Tucson, 85716. For more information go to or call 795-9671.

Elderly or homebound Tucsonans who would like a free, home-delivered Thanksgiving meal can call 322-2009.

Thanksgiving in the Barrio

When: 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Nov. 22

Where: El Pueblo Neighborhood Center, 101 W. Irvington Road

Cost: Free

Details: Luz Social Services needs donations of 120 frozen turkeys, at least 100 frozen pumpkin and fruit pies, whipped topping, canned goods, grocery gift certificates and money to provide Thanksgiving meals for at least 1,800 homeless and hungry people in South Tucson.

The organization has secured donations of potatoes and gravy and some canned goods, but no turkeys or pies, and cooking is scheduled for Nov. 21.

Donations can be dropped at Luz Social Services, 2797 N. Cerrada de Beto, formerly known as 2797 N. Introspect Drive.

The nonprofit can also pick up donations for the feast. For more information, call 388-4574.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at