Saturday morning’s showers didn’t dampen the spirits of close to twenty volunteers from the First Samoan Assembly of God who gladly gave away close to 300 turkeys and other fixings to needy families Saturday morning under the shade shelter in downtown Patterson’s North Park.

"We’re happy to do it every year," Pastor Hercules Lofa said while assisting at Saturday’s event, "especially with how hard it is to survive nowadays. That’s part of our ministry, to reach out to people."

What started three years ago as a buffet-style turkey luncheon provided to folks in the park eventually evolved into the Heart of Thanksgiving event.

Lofa and his crew of volunteers were met with a line that ran down the sidewalk of North Del Puerto Avenue well before 9 a.m., when the giveaway was scheduled to begin.

Shortly after 9 a.m., close to 200 families had already been served with a turkey, a box of stuffing and other typical thanksgiving dinner side dishes.

Donated turkeys were collected from families in Modesto, Turlock and Fairfield.

Meanwhile, across town at Sacred Heart School’s Bonaventure Hall, volunteers from the St. Vincent De Paul Society, Patterson Promotores, parishioners from Sacred Heart Church, as well as Sacred Heart School students, were preparing to serve over 450 families with food baskets stocked full of canned goods, sweet potatoes and other donated, non-perishable items.

"This is not just the St. Vincent De Paul Society; this is a community thing," St. Vincent De Paul Society president Norma Munoz said. "Everyone can be a part of this."

Many different community entities have joined forces with the St. Vincent De Paul Society over the years, including the Boy Scouts of America and the Salvation Army, who helped create a dent in the donations.

Area farmers such as Dave Santos, as well as the Maring and Bays family farms, helped provide goods and the boxes used for the food baskets, while farmers from the Livingston area donated the sweet potatoes.

Schools across the city had also been collecting canned goods to be used in the food baskets, as well as the local Boy Scouts, who recently held their Canned Food Drive.

The St. Vincent De Paul thrift store made a monetary donation of $4,500, enough to place a $10 food voucher in each of the 450 food baskets so that families could buy meat for the holidays.

While efforts to assist the St. Vincent De Paul society have ramped up in recent years, the capacity of families served has not, due to the limiting size of Bonaventure Hall.

"We need a bigger hall so we can do more," Munoz said. "We’re working on getting a bigger hall, and that will help us serve more people."

Despite any challenges, however, Munoz expressed her gratitude to those who have helped with the Thanksgiving food baskets every year.

"We are grateful to our benefactors, because without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do," Munoz said.

Earlier in the week, local representatives from the Center for Human Services were busy serving a Thanksgiving dinner of their own at the Hammon Senior Center, as they have done for the past three years.

This year, their largest Thanksgiving Community Café held to date, over 350 people were served a dinner that included mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, salad, a bread roll, and, of course, Turkey.

At least 40 volunteers from the Westside Volunteers, Teen Center, PHS AVID Club, Tri-Counties and Wells Fargo banks, and Walmart helped dish up and serve the food along with Susi and Troy McMahan, who stayed quite busy throughout the two-hour window that food was being served.

While needy families are the target of the Thanksgiving Community Café, Center officials felt it imperative to include the community-at-large.

"We invite our families first and foremost because we’re not sure if they can have this dinner somewhere else," Center for Human Services director of Marketing and Public Relations Kate Trompetter said.

"You could look at that room and you wouldn’t be able to tell if any one of those families is receiving services from us and who is not," Trompetter added. "That is really important to us."

Elias Funez can be reached at 209-892-6187 ext. 31 or elias@pattersonirrigator.com.

PI news, community and crime reporter

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