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Those at Salvation Army Dinner counting their blessings

By Camille Doty
Nov. 24, 2011 at 5:24 a.m.

Charles Garza celebrates his 13th birthday by volunteering his time at the Salvation Army on Thanksgiving Day morning.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Salvation Army served 346 of dinner plates at the center at 1302 N. Louis St. on Thanksgiving Day.

The holidays serve as a painful reminder for Barbara Atkinson. She has lost her mother and sister, who both would have celebrated their birthdays in December.

Most wouldn't recognize her pain at first sight because of her ear-to-ear smile all Thanksgiving Day.

The 55-year-old licensed cosmetologist enjoyed the company of new friends at the Salvation Army Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

Atkinson said she still counts her blessings.

"I'm thankful to God for all His blessings," she said. "Without Him, I don't know where I would be."

About 140 other people waited outside the center's doors before the 11 a.m. celebration.

By the end of the day, 346 people were served turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and tea.

Doc Bartlett, the shelter's program director, said volunteers served about half the number of meals they served last year.

"Hopefully, it's because people are in a better position," he said.

Bartlett said the remaining food would be put to good use and the slump in numbers will not change the center's plans to serve.

"It's better to have and not need, than to need and not have," he said.

As the highly anticipated moment approached, volunteers prepared their hearts and hands with prayer in the chapel.

Kim Orsak helped in the kitchen for the first time, although she has volunteered to ring a red kettle bell during the holidays.

"I've been so blessed this year that I want to give back to the community," she said. During her time, she served refreshments to people such as Patricia Guynes Traylor.

Traylor said she became homeless six months ago. She spends most of her day walking around and asking for food.

The former bartender from Victoria said she almost lost all of her possessions. Thanksgiving is one day that she knows she will receive nourishment.

"My favorite part of the meal was ... all of it," she said. Traylor said, beyond receiving food, she is treated with dignity and respect.

"Everyone here is so friendly, nice and helpful," she said.

Atkinson said she returned to the Crossroads from Louisiana to help her mother, who passed away in 2008.

The mother of four said money has been tight during the recession. She has been to dinner off and on during those past several years.

Atkinson said the opportunity to fellowship at the Salvation Army is just as important as the meal.

With her angel pin on her shoulder, the grandmother of 11 said hello and wished a "Happy Thanksgiving" to everyone she met.

Atkinson thanked the servers for the wonderful meal. She realizes how precious life really is and understands that she may not return to her profession of cosmetology.

Maybe, she said, she will have a chance to share her skills in the afterlife. "I'm going to be the one in Heaven, cutting the angels' hair," she said.

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