Salvation Army gives back through community Thanksgiving dinner
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The smell of turkey and gravy filled the air as Michelle Bustos sat at a table, surrounded by her brood of seven children.
"We thought it would be good to get out of the house," she said, smiling at the kiddos beside her. "And this has been nice. It's been a big help."
Bustos and her children attended the Salvation Army's community Thanksgiving dinner Thursday.
The annual event is a chance to give back to those in the community, said Major Ernest Lozano, the Salvation Army's commanding officer. Although a donation bucket sits by the front door, the meal is free.
The Salvation Army served about 600 meals during 2009's dinner, Lozano said. The organization was prepared to serve up to 800 this year, he said, attributing some of the increase to the effects of a down economy.
It's open to everyone, not just those who can't afford Thanksgiving dinner.
"Some people don't have family to share the holiday with," he said. "It breaks my heart. We're here to help people with their emotional and spiritual needs, too."
Sandy Thomas moved to Victoria about four months ago, to escape New York's cold weather. She attended the Thursday event simply to celebrate the holiday.
"I'm here by myself and thought I'd come out," she said, nudging her curly hair behind her ear. "It's delicious. I'm glad I came."
About 100 volunteers, clad in hairnets and plastic gloves, also made their way to the dinner. Some doled out turkey and stuffing while others served up plates, and still more helped with clean-up.
Husband-wife team Ronnie and Gayle Burden volunteered as servers because they said they enjoy helping out.
"We've got a lot to be thankful for," said Ronnie Burden, who planned to celebrate the holiday Saturday with a house brimming with family members.
Elaine Davis, another volunteer, said she helped out because she didn't have other plans and wanted to give back. It was rewarding, she said, explaining she enjoyed meeting new people and sharing smiles.
Sometimes it's the simple gestures that make the biggest impacts, Davis said.
"You don't have to say too much," she explained. "Just say it with a smile."
The dinner is a labor of love for those involved, Lozano said, and it comes together with help from many people. It isn't just those who go in for the meals who benefit.
"We think we're going to bless them, but we come away more blessed," he said. "We are so grateful."