Just before 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, cars lined the streets surrounding The Salvation Army building in Victoria. Inside a group of volunteers huddled about the door armed with trays full of individually packaged meals, but they were unfortunately short on rain jackets.

Outside, rain fell in heavy sheets, sweeping across the parking lot.

“We’ve never had it rain on Thanksgiving Day before,” said Capt. Kenny Jones, commanding officer at The Salvation Army in Victoria.

The wet weather outdoors did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the volunteers, however. In under an hour, nearly 300 meals of rib roast, corn, green beans, pie and more were handed to the people in the cars by a handful of volunteers running to and fro in the rain.

The cars slowly snaked around the block while drivers rolled down their windows and called out how many meals they needed.

“I’m the youngest of my family and everyone has passed away, so this is a good thing for me,” said Mark Gonzales, 53, who came to pick up a meal. His parents were 45 when they had him, he said, so he always knew this would eventually happen. “I’m not depressed or anything, but I am hungry.”

Inside, a dozen volunteers ran a well-organized assembly line, compiling individual bags full of dinners, drinks, dessert and plastic ware.

Some have been coming to volunteer for years. For others this was their first year.

Adriana Cooke, 47, said she came because she has no family to be with this year and she wanted to help others in need.

Juanita Rocha, 50, has been bringing her son, Jesús Villalobos, 16, to volunteer each Thanksgiving since he was 5.

“This is our family tradition. We don’t cook a turkey and all that stuff. We come here, and then we go home, have a turkey and cheese sandwich afterwards, and we’re grateful for what we have,” said Rocha.

They aren’t the only ones with a family tradition at The Salvation Army on Thanksgiving Day. Robert McKay, 71, is a member of the Salvation Army’s advisory board and has been bringing various family members to volunteer on Thanksgiving for about a decade.

“Making sure that you’re sharing Thanksgiving with somebody that needs it, that needs somebody to share with them, that’s what this all about,” said McKay.

This year he had four family members join him — his son, son-in-law and two grandkids.

For Connally McKay, 41, this was his first year joining his dad at The Salvation Army. While he grew up in Victoria and has attended services and other functions at The Salvation Army, he hadn’t volunteered on Thanksgiving Day before. However, he felt it was important to bring his eldest son, Thomas McKay, 13, this year.

“We’re blessed in life. I want him to see all walks of life and give back and understand that that’s a major important part in life, that if you’re blessed, to give your blessing back,” said McKay.

First timers Justin Rinehart, 29, and his partner, Mistan Schmidt, 38, came hoping to establish a new tradition.

“We had been talking about trying to start a tradition together to do something to give back,” said Schmidt. After searching for volunteer opportunities in town, they decided on The Salvation Army.

Before noon, nearly all the meals had been handed out and the line of cars around the block had dwindled to a single, solitary vehicle.

Jones encouraged the volunteers to help themselves to the remaining rib roast and thanked them for their help. For some, the end of service meant going home alone. Others left to join family celebrations.

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Cat writes about Victoria's city and county government. Questions, tips, or ideas? Let me know cdelaura@vicad.com or (361) 580-6511

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Cat DeLaura is the local government reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She was born in Texas, but grew up in Virginia. She came back to Texas to get her masters in Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

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