November 26, 2004
The expectant looks of Marc Winkelman’s family switched to befuddlement Thursday.
Not even noon, and the Chandler family, hoping to volunteer, was being turned away from the Salvation Army’s blow-out Thanksgiving dinner in the city’s downtown.
"It’s full," one woman ahead of them in the crowded entry explained. "There’s already more volunteers than people."
Volunteers swamped the Salvation Army’s holiday dinner in the Chandler Community Center — where no guests were turned away and an anticipated 700 to 1,000 people, mostly migrant families, enjoyed turkey with trimmings.
"We call (Thanksgiving Day) ‘Dia de Accion de Gracias,’ " said Salvation Army Maj. Luis Martinez, coordinator. "We work in the poorest area of Chandler, that’s where our offices are, and we work with the migrant workers."
This is the 15th annual Thanksgiving Day event, which food bank organizers say is the largest in the East Valley, and which increasingly blends American tradition with the Hispanic culture of its guests.
The meal began with a short history lesson on Thanksgiving, followed by a prayer and the explanation that "this is the day to be thankful," Martinez said.
Later, girls on the auditorium stage twirled in full skirts to folk music while families ate together at large round tables, served from ranks of volunteers who lined walls and filled open areas while awaiting assignments.
A bus and two vans from the Queen Creek Unified School District delivered outlying migrant families to the feast, said Miguel Garcia, director of the district’s Family Resource Center. "Migrant workers are part of our society. So, let’s get them involved," he said. "Thanksgiving is not just for Americans."
Fliers also were handed out to the men who wait every morning on street corners looking for work.
"But today, nobody is picking up nobody," Martinez said.
As attendance to the meal grows each year, so does community support. Because of this, Martinez said, the Salvation Army has added both a delivery component — in which some 200 elderly and shut-in residents received Thanksgiving — and a takehome component. "Probably, close to 500 turkeys we give away," Martinez said.
Help is easy to find, he said, adding that while the actual number of volunteers didn’t exceed that of the guests, some 150 to 200 showed up to honor the spirit of holiday giving.
"At least it’s better this way than the other way," said Marc Winkelman just before he and his family took off to find other holiday activities.