Raider Odom, 7, volunteered at Thursday’s Thanksgiving feast with her family. She said she wanted to help people becausethey didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving. (Bethany Freudenthal Photo)
Volunteers of all ages and ethnicities dressed in white plastic aprons, plastic gloves and blue plastic hairnets stood behind tables filled with a traditional Thanksgiving feast Thursday at the Fraternal Order of Eagles hall.
Roasting pans lined the tables overflowing with turkey and ham, stuffing, gravy, salad and bread. Even beans and rice were in abundance, while volunteers served patrons with smiles on their faces. Music played in the background as several ladies passed out yellow flowers to each woman who attended.
Kitchen volunteers carved hundreds of turkeys and ham, sliced cake and filled up to-go containers for meals being delivered.
Elementary school children helped the elderly carry heaping plates to their tables, and served cake to patrons too full to make their way up to the dessert table.
The crowd was as diverse as the volunteers. An elderly man in a wheelchair, a Hispanic family with a young daughter and a young son, a man with a graying beard wearing a leather biker’s vest and bandana, a tall woman with long, red, curly hair wearing a peach skirt and a blue and gray striped fuzzy sweater.
“I came here to eat,” exclaimed one of the patrons as she smiled, her plate nearly overflowing with food.
The dinner started with a short sermon about Mary and Martha, two sisters who opened their homes to Jesus and his disciples.
“While Martha busied herself with preparations for her guests, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus,” said a pastor who gave a sermon. “Martha became upset because she was doing all of the work, and complained to Jesus about her sister.
“Today isn’t about the food. It isn’t about worrying,” the pastor said. “This is about spending time with Jesus.
For the past 35 years, Johnny Gonzales, director of the community volunteer program has helped thousands of Roswell residents who might not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy a warm Thanksgiving dinner.
The event takes two months of full-time work to coordinate, with many area businesses and organizations donating time, money and food, Gonzales said.
The dinner takes place at the Fraternal Order of Eagles on Thanksgiving. However, meals are delivered to different locations around Roswell, so if people can’t make it to the Eagles hall, they can pick their meals up somewhere else in town. Volunteers are also available to deliver meals to folks who can’t leave their homes, like the elderly or the ill, and during Thursday’s dinner they were expected to make around 100 deliveries.
“We’re here to serve food free to the people, and to thank the Lord for allowing us to be here,” Gonzales said. “It’s a day of Thanksgiving, a day to give thanks unto the Lord. We’re not here to give thanks to the Phillies, or the Miami Dolphins, or the Dallas Cowboys.”
Joe Chaves Jr. attended Thanksgiving at the Eagles hall Thursday because he didn’t have anywhere else to go. He explained that he was the youngest child in his family, and all of his siblings have passed away.
“I don’t have any family because they have all died already,” he said. “I was the baby of the family and I didn’t have no where to go to eat, and that’s why I’m here.”
According to Gonzales, about one quarter of Roswell’s residents face food insecurity, and his organization helps people all year round find services they need in order to survive.
“I work with dialysis patients, liver patients and those battling cancer, to make sure they have everything they need in order to enjoy their holidays,” Gonzales said.
The next big project Community Volunteer Program is working on will be their toy and food basket drive for needy families during the Christmas season.
“There’s no criteria or application process for those needing help through the Community Volunteer Program,” said Gonzales. “Anyone can just walk in or call me up if they need help.” he said. “Here, we have beans, rice and Jesus Christ.”
Gonzales may be reached at the Community Volunteer Program by calling 575-624-7579.
Staff writer Bethany Freudenthal may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or firstname.lastname@example.org.