At 4 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, a large army will mobilize for action.
In the Old Pueblo, more than 100 Salvation Army volunteers will be armed with more than 150 turkeys, 500 pounds of stuffing and mashed potatoes and 40 gallons of gravy in their mission to serve more than 3,000 meals for the hungry, the homeless, shut-ins and senior citizens.
Randy Frazee, Tim Grimes and Manny Ramirez will be among the early risers after beginning preparations in the week before by thawing and cooking turkeys.
“Working with the volunteers is so rewarding: The people I work with just warm my heart,” said Frazee, who began volunteering for the Salvation Army 15 years ago and recently joined the advisory board. “And it is so rewarding to help provide meals for the people in need on Thanksgiving. I get back more than I give. It has become a tradition for me and my family and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else on Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Grimes and Ramirez have also volunteered with the organization for more than a decade.
“Your heart grows a little bigger every year,” said Grimes. “You meet the greatest people when you do volunteer work, and the way the Salvation Army is designed it fosters that environment. You become a better person because you are working for them.”
The volunteers are happy to once again be cooking and serving in a central location at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, which suffered more than $1 million in damage in a fire in May.
“Fire and smoke damage caused us to have to dump everything and start over,” said Shawna Kroh, a Salvation Army spokeswoman. “We lost storage containers, plates, napkins, utensils, condiments, salt and pepper shakers. But the church raised funds to renovate and reconstruct and we will still be able to do it there, and we are so thankful for that.”
Kroh said the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts are lights at the end of the tunnel for homeless people and families struggling due to unemployment or underemployment during the holiday season.
“We want to reach out and let people know they are loved and welcome to come in and enjoy a nice warm meal,” she said. “There is a huge need and this helps to build the morale of people stuck on the streets and people who are jobless or homeless. There will also be Salvation Army officers there to help people find resources to get them off the streets or provide other assistance they need.”
Frazee believes that many people are unaware of the extent of services provided by the Salvation Army, which range from emergency disaster relief to adult rehabilitation programs for substance abuse as well as job training, youth programs and temporary shelter.
“On the advisory board, I get to see the Salvation Army not just in the trenches, but from a 30,000-foot view,” he said. “I see all the workings, from raising funds for emergency disaster relief in the Philippines to trying to raise $6 million for a new Hospitality House. The original house was built in the 1960s in dormitory style for men and now we have families and children and need to accommodate their issues as well.”
To fill the immediate needs of the hungry this holiday season, Kroh said last week that the organization was facing a shortage of about 470 turkeys. It has received four of 500 frozen, prebaked pies needed and still needs all of the trimmings for a traditional holiday meal, including rolls, cranberry sauce, potatoes, stuffing and condiments.
Luz needs help
Donations to Luz Social Services for its annual Thanksgiving in the Barrio have been even more sparse with only 20 turkeys to date.
The nonprofit, which served more than 1,900 meals last year and is planning for 2,000 at the celebration on Tucson’s south side two days before Thanksgiving, also seeks to provide food boxes for many families to enjoy on the holiday.
Program Director Mary Ornelas said she feared that the lack of donations would leave many families with no holiday at all.
“This is almost too close for comfort this year,” she said. “We hear funding for agencies is at its lowest point and in-kind donations are not going to be what they used to be or will be nothing at all. Many of our families are not working or are just working enough to make ends meet and they really need this celebration. It gives them something to look forward to and helps them feel united with the community.”