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Salvation Army's annual Thanksgiving dinner switches to drive-through

Salvation Army's annual Thanksgiving dinner switches to drive-through

  • Updated

In 2020, Salvation Army volunteers don’t need to help with cooking to facilitate feasting on Thanksgiving Day.

Michael Miller is one of the small army of volunteers dedicated to making the annual Salvation Army Community Thanksgiving Dinner a reality for those in need, and they will continue to do so in spite of COVID-19.

“We have had so many compassionate and passionate conversations with volunteers and officers and staff within the Salvation Army trying to figure out how to keep people safe and still have them feel the dignity, respect and kindness they feel when they are served at a table. With the tension and concern about caring for the safety of the larger Tucson community and those at health risk, we didn’t feel we had a strong enough solution for a sit-down meal,” said Miller, a designer for Goebel Design Group and member of the board of directors for the Salvation Army.

Miller, who has helped with both Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for the past decade, credited the Pima County Health Department and the city of Tucson for providing collaboration, advice and assistance in making the decision to change the dinner to a drive-thru giveaway.

“It would be so great if magically, for one day, we could say there are no health issues, but sadly, that is not the case this year,” Davidson said.

Ultimately, he said the decision was all about risk management.

“We are trying to care for people as much as possible. We thought, let’s learn from Thanksgiving and make sure people are fed safely and gather information to see if we will be able to safely come together at the Tucson Convention Center for Christmas,” Miller said.

Miller said the plan will be a big change not only for those who traditionally attend the community dinner, but for those who prepare and serve it, including him and his husband, Chad Goebel.

“There is nothing like preparing a physical ton of mashed potatoes to make a mark on the holidays. A classic Thanksgiving dinner for eight seems insurmountable, so to get together with others and accomplish something daunting like cooking for hundreds brings humanity and community to another level. It is an honor to be a part of that,” Miller said.

He emphasized that volunteers plan to bring that same level of enthusiasm to the drive-thru meal distribution from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 1145 E. Fort Lowell Road.

The plan is to provide takeout boxes containing traditional turkey dinners in a low-touch environment; pandemic guidelines for wearing masks and practicing social distancing will be followed.

Although 800 dinners were served last year, it is difficult to project how many people will utilize the drive-thru, said Bill Davidson, public-relations manager for the Salvation Army.

“We are expecting to serve at least 350 dinners, but it is hard to know, since many people are still isolating at home. Since the pandemic has started, need for our services has increased tremendously. People are asking for help with housing, utilities, food and clothing in much greater numbers,” Davidson said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at


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