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Volunteers feed the hungry, comfort the lonely
Hughson dinner pic2
Volunteers at the Hughson Community Thanksgiving Feast served a turkey dinner with all the fixings to approximately 400 people on Saturday. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

The milk of human kindness is easy to find this time of year as individuals join together to provide for the lonely and less fortunate, through community dinners, donations of food baskets and providing winter survival kits to the homeless.

The residents of Hughson got into the Thanksgiving spirit early this year, hosting a community feast on Saturday. Eighty volunteers prepared 48 turkeys, 200 pounds of mashed potatoes, 120 pounds of sweet potatoes, along with mounds of green beans and stuffing as part of the free dinner.

Along with an estimated 400 individuals who were served a sit-down dinner and dessert at the Hughson Senior Center on Saturday, 90 meals were delivered to homebound senior citizens.  The leftovers from the community feast were donated to the United Samaritans Foundation to be served on the organization's Daily Bread lunch trucks.

"We do this meal for the people who don't have any family or are lonely, those in need or unemployed," said event coordinator Russ St. Clair.

Hughson senior Wahlelle McFerrin joined her friend Margaret Dalton at Saturday's dinner.

"It's a good way to run into people you've known for years. It's a nice morning," said McFerrin.

Danny Rytting and his sons Kyson and Caleb came for the second year to help serve.

"It's a great way to be together and help people," said the Hughson dad.         

Hughson wasn't the only community to celebrate Thanksgiving together. The Keyes Head Start Program took time to thank their families on Tuesday with a free turkey dinner drive-through.

“With Head Start we are a family-oriented program and a lot of the families participate,” said director Tamara McClintick. “We wanted do something nice and give back in order to thank them for everything that they do.

“We used to a turkey dinner every year, but with 68 families now we just didn’t have the space,” added McClintick.

A total of 12 staff members went out into the community to solicit donations for the event and as a result 200 dinners were prepared for Head Start children and their families. Each dinner consisted of a turkey entrée, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and a slice of pumpkin pie.

Community donors included Resendiz Family Fruit Barn, Costco Wholesale, Save Mart Supermarkets, Safeway, Raley’s, BJ’s Restaurant and Foster Farms. Head Start staff members supplied all additional items not provided by the community.

“The community has been very generous,” said McClintick. “The donations just kept pouring in every day.”

With her 3-year-old daughter and Head Start student Harleigh Williams asleep in the backseat of her car, Christina Williams was just one parent who pulled up during the program’s drive-through service on Tuesday.

“It’s just a family kind of thing,” said Williams. “She [Harleigh] was excited knowing they were preparing Thanksgiving for her. It’s very welcoming.”

Sylvia Echeverria was another familiar face that filed through the drive-through line on Tuesday with her 3-year-old son and Head Start student Diego Echeverria.

“This is a very special act of kindness by Keyes Head Start because they took us into consideration,” said Sylvia Echeverria through a translator. “This is just another thing that they have provided for our family.”

Dozens of local school children and their families will have more to eat over the holiday vacation thanks to the efforts of the Martinez family.

All year long the Martinez's and their friends collect items to put into food baskets and then the week before Thanksgiving, they add some fresh fruits and vegetables and donate the baskets to 11 local schools. Each school receives five boxes and teachers submit selections of families in kindergarten through 3rd grade who would benefit from the donations the most. The food boxes were delivered to the local schools on Friday.

Just as a small group working together is making a difference for school children and their families, local teen Taylor Ward's Eagle Scout project brought comfort to the area's homeless.

Ward collected donations from community members to put together 60 winter survival kits for the homeless population. The kits included items to help with hygiene and survival needs such as ponchos, deodorant, water bottles, socks, trail bars, beanies, and first aid materials.

The Hickman 8th grader handed out the survival kits at the Turlock Gospel Mission on Tuesday night, along with his Boy Scout troop and members of his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. With money donated, he also purchased items needed at the Turlock Gospel Mission such as paper towels, ramen noodles and gas cards. 

The holiday season may have just started, but the spirit of giving is already in full swing. To volunteer this season, contact one of these local organizations:

Salvation Army, 893 Lander Ave., Turlock. 209-667-6091We Care Cold Weather Shelter, 221 S. Broadway, Turlock. 209-664-2003Turlock Gospel Mission, 408 S. First St., Turlock. 209-656-1033United Samaritans Foundation, 220 S. Broadway, Turlock. 209-668-4853Turlock Together,

Journal reporter Alysson Aredas contributed to this story.