VENICE, Fla — After a brief hiatus due to Covid, The Salvation Army of Sarasota brought back its Thanksgiving luncheon tradition of providing hot meals to families in need.
More than 100 volunteers prepared and packed Thanksgiving Day dinners for 350 families. The Venice High School Football team served as delivery drivers to help distribute meals to seniors in the community.
At the luncheon in Venice, food was served at the hall where guests were serenaded with music played by the Venice Symphony.
Many of the neighbors in the area who attended the luncheon said they were thankful the event returned especially after recent challenges with inflation and extreme weather.
"Hurricane Ian damaged our home and we have not been able to repair it yet but it's still livable and it'll be fine in the end," Katherine Hamilton from Venice said.
Others are thankful for the simple things many others around them no longer have.
"I'm thankful that I have my family, I have 11 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, and two great-great," Judy Howell of Bradenton said.
Howell said she has been attending the luncheon for more than 20 years because she has made friends through the event. For people like her and many others, the Salvation Army Thanksgiving Day Luncheon means a lot more than a meal.
"We like it here because people are always good, we feel like we're helping to give ourselves to others in the community," Larry Phillips of Venice said.
"We are providing the ministry of presence," said Shawn Dupree who runs the Venice branch of The Salvation Army of Sarasota. "There are folks who don't have families and they need some companionship and so that's what we're giving to our community today."
In addition to all their other programs, Dupree said it was important to bring the luncheon and meal giveaway back because the community is among a number in the area experiencing food insecurity.
"We have a lot of elderly folks that live in this community who don't have the means to always provide meals daily for themselves and so the Salvation Army is in the community to help give a little support in that area," Dupree said.
"We hope that they continue because it really is a lovely time to get together with other people in the community," Hamilton said.
The Salvation Army in Manatee County also provided meals to around 400 families.
Similar events and food deliveries happened at various Salvation Army locations throughout Tampa Bay, especially for Thanksgiving Day. The organization also plans to hold similar events for the Christmas Holiday.