Thanksgiving may be two days away, but its spirit was in full force Tuesday night at the Palmer Events Center.
“I'm a mom, and I bring my children out here. And it's great to see the entire community of Austin really rallying around being a family,” explained Leticia Mendoza, the H-E-B public affairs manager.
The 28th annual H-E-B Feast of Sharing drew about 1,300 volunteers who served nearly 12,000 meals over four hours.
“To us, it’s a huge blessing to see the smile on their face, people enjoying this environment, and people getting their bellies nice and full,” said Mendoza.
Volunteers of all backgrounds pitched in, with a heavy presence by the Austin Police Department.
“Oftentimes we're just seen as those individuals that are out there reinforcing the law, but this is a life of service. Service to the law, but also service to the community,” explained Chief Brian Manley.
The event is one of several high-profile charity gatherings in the metro area over the next month.
“Nobody wants to see a child go without food. Nobody wants to see a child go without toys over Christmas and the holidays and all. So to be able to have events like The Feast of Sharing, like Blue Santa, it’s really special. And again, it’s what makes Austin, Austin. It really is a unique place in this country,” explained Manley.
For friends and coworkers Wendi Thomas-Holliman and Jessica Walls, it was an opportunity to be positive role models for many of the night’s youngest attendees.
“They see that us as adults are out here giving back, giving our time, making sure they're having a healthy meal during Thanksgiving, and just saying thank you and giving thanks,” said Thomas-Holliman.
“It makes you feel good. Even for other people who may not have family that is close by, just to have others around is a good thing,” explained Walls.
The hospitality is something the Rodriguez family plans to pay forward.
“Getting to know people, getting to know that next year we can be volunteers, and to see that we can help people,” said Yesenia Rodriguez, who recently moved with her family from Corpus Christi to Austin.
In the future, they plan on assisting those in need.
“Our family believes in paying it forward. If we need something, an open door will be there, and if somebody else needs it, we will give that to them. So paying it forward is very important to us,” said Rodriguez.
Outside the live music and hot meals, more than 20 non-profit agencies were on hand to offer information about their services to the community.