When Raul Jimenez started hosting free dinners to feed those without the chance to have a good, warm meal on Thanksgiving, the goal was to feed 100 people.
Next Thursday, 33 years later, the 2012 Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner’s volunteers and coordinators will serve about 25,000 people at the Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center (200 East Market St.). Dinner and entertainment is free of charge from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting with an all-faith worship service.
[The 2013 dinner – same time, same place – is on Nov. 28.]
Donations and support for the dinner traditionally comes in many forms. This year Wal-Mart donated $25,000, about 4,000 volunteers (cooks, dishwashers, line-servers, coordinators, etc) donated their time, local elementary school children made placemats and centerpieces for the tables and individual donations ranged in amounts big and small.
It all adds up to what has become a staple tradition in many a San Antonian’s holiday season.
Sandra McBride can’t remember the last time she had a Thanksgiving that didn’t involve meeting her friends and family at the Jimenez dinner to volunteer – and she doesn’t predict that it will ever happen again.
“It’s more fun to go out there and do that than to stay at home to cook all day,” McBride said, who has volunteered at the event for about 18 consecutive years.
McBride, a nurse at Northeast Methodist Hospital, started looking for something meaningful to do with her time after a divorce 20 years ago. When she and a fellow divorcee heard of the event, she started helping out with the medical support staff at the dinner; checking blood pressure and sugar levels and assisting in case of an emergency. Wanting a change of pace, she eventually she moved over to the food-side of things.
For McBride, and many other volunteers and community members, it’s become a family tradition. Her mother, daughter, grandchildren and husband – she remarried – all have participated in the dinner and will continue to for years to come.
“It shows children the importance of giving,” McBride said, “It also makes them feel good, doing something for the community … The volunteers have a great time too, dancing (behind) the food line.”
As usual, there will be plenty of live music, singing and laughing, she said, “some people come because they need food, some people come just to have a good time.”
What has kept the Jimenez dinner strong for 33 years is no secret – it’s the passion of organizers and the community surrounding it.
Raul Jimenez’ daughter, Patricia, is proud to continue her father’s legacy of charity. She works at Villa de San Antonio, a senior living community, and is a chairperson on the dinner’s board.
“It’s a community event that embraces people from all walks of life,” Jimenez said, “It speaks to how generous the people of San Antonio really are. They’re not just eating a meal, they experience a fellowship.”
By the Numbers: A look at what it takes to feed 25,000 people Thanksgiving dinner.
- Turkey – 9,4000 lbs.
- Stuffing – 6,250 lbs.
- Green Beans – 6,250 lbs.
- Gravy – 650 lbs.
- Yams – 4,688 lbs.
- Cranberry Sauce – 4,688 lbs.
- Bread – 32,000 dinner rolls
- Pumpkin Pies – 3000 pies
Jimenez was 11 years old when her father hosted the first dinner. She grew up surrounded by charity and community.
“There is no question in my mind that this (free dinner) is here to stay,” she said, “There is still a lot of work to be done.”
Donations are accepted year-round through their website. Volunteers have been gathering up food and supplies for months – but it’s never too late to make monetary or canned-food donations.
More Thanksgiving charity events and organizations:
Created with flickr slideshow.