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November 24th, 2008
Southside Community Center sponsors Thanksgiving dinner for residents in need

Over a thousand San Marcos residents joined one another to celebrate Thanksgiving at the San Marcos Activities Center last Friday evening. Staff of the Southside Community Center, which sponsored the event, worked with dozens of volunteers from community and church groups to provide free dinner and entertainment. Over a dozen for-profit organizations helped fund the event.

Southside Community Center Executive Director Ruben Garza said his organization, which is non-profit and provides various forms of help to residents in need, has sponsored the feast for the last 25 years.

“This is probably our biggest crowd,” said Garza. “I mean, we still have people waiting (in line to eat). God knows how many people we have this year — I’m sure it’s over 1200 people.”

Garza said about 700 people arrived at City Park last year for the Annual Thanksgiving Dinner, after which there was food left over, unlike this year’s event. The room at the Activities Center was packed, with people standing up against the wall and those not able to find seating receiving to-go plates of food.

“I think a lot of people are suffering a lot more this year,” Garza said. “And so there’s more of a need to be together as a community, and more of a need to enjoy the things that we have here tonight.”

Items on the menu included turkey, dressing, gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes, carrot salad and pea salad. There were cookies and at least three kinds of pie for dessert. Garza said cooks spent three days preparing food. Entertainment included performances by Act IV Senior Drama Club, Bruce Curtis Fallgren and Crossroad Church Band. There were door prizes and the Jigglebug Express train was available for the enjoyment of children. County Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe and Mayor Susan Narvaiz were in attendance.

Garza said a Hurricane Ike evacuee was among those having Thanksgiving Dinner at the Activity Center.

“We’re letting him stay in our shelter,” said Garza. “He sleeps during the day, then he goes to work the graveyard shift so he can save money to get a place.”

San Marcos resident Rebecca Manzanares, who brought her three children to the event, praised the food and music. Manzanares works for Community Action, a 45-year-old non-profit organization working to help families out of poverty and provide academic assistance to at-risk children. Manzanares said patrons of Community Action’s local Seniors Center and families she works with in the Head Start program were at the dinner.

“A few years we’ve volunteered, but this year we sat down and had dinner,” said Manzanares.

San Marcos resident Eloisa Sierra and her daughter and two granddaughters volunteered at the dinner. Sierra, a 15-year volunteer at the St. Vincent De Paul Society, said her eight-year-old granddaughter phoned earlier in the day to secure a place among the event’s legions of volunteers. Sierra said her granddaughter gladly took on the role of placing biscuits on hundreds of dinner plates.

“It was something easy for her to do, but somebody had to do it,” said Sierra.

Sierra smiled widely as she recalled seeing “people so happy to receive” the products of community compassion.

“I enjoyed it,” said Sierra. “It makes me feel good to help people that need help.”

Garza said the event could not have been pulled-off without the assistance of the many people who directly contributed their labor, such as former County Commissioner Ralph Gonzales, who roasted twenty turkeys for the event.

“He doesn’t necessarily look for accolades anymore,” said Garza. “He’s seventy-three years old. But, you know, he worked three days straight on this event, and he never really gets any credit.”

Garza said the city has traditionally addressed the poverty issue adequately, but the recent nationwide economic downturn poses new problems.

“They’re going to have to re-adjust and they’re going to have to look at the (big) picture,” said Garza. “The Mayor told me tonight, ‘Wow, look at all these people. Next year we’re going to have to do something different. We’re going to be working on programs, we need to talk.’ I think there’s a new awareness.”

Crossroad Christian Fellowship Church Pastor John Minton, who sang that evening with the Crossroad Church Band, said government cannot effectively help communities meet most needs.

“It’s not a role for government, I don’t believe that at all,” said Minton. “This has got to be a community role. If the community doesn’t meet the needs of its own community, the government can’t…We want to blame a president, we want to blame government…but they’re not the end-all. The Bible says Jesus uses us, the church, the believers, as his hands. The problem is, not many people are using their hands, and they’re blaming it on the government instead of blaming it on themselves.”by Sean Batura

Photos by Christina Zambrano

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