Local nonprofits are not only counting their blessings this Thanksgiving, they are also counting turkeys — along with all the trimmings and pies — as they prepare to provide holiday feasts for the hungry, homeless and homebound.
The Salvation Army and the Community Food Bank need more than 600 turkeys and 500 precooked, store-bought pumpkin and fruit pies; the Gospel Rescue Mission is also requesting 600 turkeys and 500 frozen, ready-to-eat pies for upcoming holiday banquets. The Portable Practical Educational Preparation Promotora Program needs 200 frozen, ready-to-eat pies. All of the organizations are in dire need of stuffing, ready-to-serve dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, canned veggies, coffee and other donations for seasonal side dishes.
The contributions will help facilitate free holiday dinners that have become traditional for those in need and volunteers alike, said Corey Leith, the Salvation Army’s public relations director.
Among the volunteers who have embraced the custom are Mona Arora and her family.
Arora, who immigrated to Tucson from India at age 7 nearly 30 years ago, volunteered for the first time with the Salvation Army Community Thanksgiving Dinner as a high school student in 1999; she and her family have been regular volunteers for the past decade. This year, she and her husband, Amit, are excited to include their 4-year-old daughter, Anya, in the effort.
“We look forward to this every Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is nice to interact with the people who attend and they appreciate that others are going out of their way. I don’t want to sound too altruistic, because it is hard to describe just how it has become a family tradition that we really look forward to every year. ... We have made lots of memories and made friends with many of the volunteers and like being around such wonderful people,” said Arora, a principal research specialist with the University of Arizona College of Public Health.
Arora gave kudos to the Salvation Army for its efforts to provide support for the homeless, elderly and disabled, as well as for families in financial difficulties.
“You never know what life is going to throw at you, and I might be in that position one day. These are just people like us, and I want to do my part to give them a sense of belonging and share a little memory with them, which is what I think the Salvation Army does,” she said.
Leith said the Salvation Army is eager for the opportunity to showcase its services and facility during the dinner from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
The event will mark the first holiday dinner at the Salvation Army Tucson Hospitality House, 1002 N. Main Ave. Opened in 2015, the 34,000-square-foot facility features a 24/7 emergency shelter with 100 beds, two family apartments and amenities such as laundry, showers and a playground.
“We want to show the people of Tucson all of the services that we provide here and want them to see the facility that was built with their support. We want people to know that they can get a free Thanksgiving meal regardless of their status in the community. This invitation goes out to everyone,” Leith said.
Third annual promotorA
Another meal open to the community is the Third Annual Free Community Thanksgiving Meal & Promotora (Health Advisor) Program from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 20 at Armory Park Center.
Organizer Maria Carrasco said that last year the event hosted almost 2,000 guests; approximately 70 percent were homeless.
Carrasco credited UnitedHealthcare and Caremore for generously donating turkeys for the meal, but she is still requesting donations of side dishes and precooked, frozen pies. Donations for gift cards to grocery stores and Walmart, blankets and other items suitable for raffle prizes are also needed.
“We used to raffle off turkeys and whole meals, but many people are homeless so they don’t have kitchens and can’t cook. Many others are elderly or disabled and they are too old to cook, so if we give them gift cards they can buy whatever they need,” she said.
Carrasco said she hopes the community will remember the homeless and elderly during their own holiday preparations.
“Most of us have a house or a home, and we need to think of those who don’t. ... I think it is an obligation to be thankful for what we have and to try to give to those who don’t have anything,” she said.
Gospel rescue mission
The Gospel Rescue Mission will do its part to provide for nearly 3,000 homeless and low-income Tucsonans during the 29th Annual Thanksgiving Street Banquet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 22 at 338 W. 28th St.
Victor Hightower, Gospel Rescue Mission public relations and outreach coordinator, emphasized that everyone is welcome at the event, which will also feature entertainment and a resource fair.
“We get a good mixture of people and it is a fun time for everyone. It is a big party out in the street with live music and lots of yummy food,” he said.