When Shirley Sisk and the Tri-Cities League of Volunteers held their first Thanksgiving Day meal for those in need 23 years ago, they served 500 people.
“I thought that was a lot — and it is a lot — but it’s just grown and grown,” said Sisk, the executive director of the Tri-Cities LOV.
In 2010, the non-profit group served 4,550 meals. On Thursday, as hundreds of Southern Alameda County residents poured into the , Sisk said they planned to serve just as many this year for their 23rd Annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
“There are so many people that need a Thanksgiving meal. There are homeless people, people who can’t afford a Thanksgiving meal and people who are alone without any family,” Sisk said.
The Thanksgiving Day feast, which ran from noon to 4 p.m., was a true labor of love and compassion.
Dozens of volunteers prepared thousands of servings of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner consisting of turkey, ham, dressing, potatoes, green beans, corn, yams and pie. Among the many donors was the local Moose Lodge, whose members cooked and carved 250 turkeys Wednesday night.
Hot meals were prepared for both those who lined up to eat at the Newark Pavilion and for various Meals on Wheels program clients who couldn’t make it out.
According to Sisk, volunteers delivered 2,060 homebound meals throughout the Tri-Cities, Castro Valley, San Leandro and San Lorenzo on Thursday morning. The hot to-go meals also included a turkey sandwich.
The organization even offered a “turkey taxi” — a shuttle service to pick-up and drop-off those without transportation.
On the way out, the first 300 also received grocery bags stuffed with various items from Safeway, along with bread from Safeway and Panera.
But the community event wasn’t just about food. It also included a number of activities for children, including face painting and a crafts room, and live music courtesy of the Center Stage Singers, who perform each year.
By 1:30 p.m. Thursday, more than 250 people had already been served meals, according to Program Director Joanne Paletta. Meanwhile, another 200 were enjoying their meals as volunteers kept a nontstop flow of food coming.
“It’s not like a soup line; you’re waited on hand and foot,” said Paletta, who’s worked with the LOV for 27 years.
It’s the feeling of knowing you’re helping someone less fortunate that Paletta enjoys most about the annual event.
“My motivation is knowing that we’re able to feed this many people to make their day better,” she said.
Many of the volunteers keep coming back each year because of the rewarding experience.
Cheryl Ferguson has been volunteering since 1992. In that span, she’s done everything from cooking to setting up. This year, she ran the face painting station.
“It’s awesome seeing everybody so happy,” Ferguson said. “Everyone has a good time, and that’s important at this time of year.”
See photos from the Tri-Cities Leage of Volunteers’ the 23rd Annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner in the gallery above.