Annual feast turned to curbside drop-off

HARLINGEN — The gymnasium of the First United Methodist Church normally would be filled with enough chairs and tables to fit 300 people on Thanksgiving.

This year, the feast still happened but with a curbside option, the new normal. Pastor J.J. Wicke said the prepping began the night before with volunteers getting the cranberry sauce and other sides ready. On Thanksgiving day, volunteers and longtime volunteer Steve Robinson alongside his wife fried and cooked the turkeys from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. People could stop by for their plate from then on until 1 p.m.

“We started nine or ten years ago in order to fill the gap from those who would normally go to Loaves and Fishes. We prepared with 500 plates but we usually do closer to 600,” Wicke said.

The church also took plates to all fire stations in the area. Wicke said normally a line of 50 to 100 people would be ready but this time less people showed up.

Slowly, cars started to line up and a few people got down to say hello to Pastor Wicke as well as the volunteers.

“We fried 32 turkeys and we had six people outside and six or seven in the kitchen,” he said.

Debbie and Ricardo Rivas stopped by because their children used to volunteer. This year their children opted not to because of COVID-19 but they decided to stop by and get a plate for their family. Both have been unemployed for a while which is why they said they are thankful for the free plates.

“I have been without a job since already past a year and him four months. It has been tough but it cannot be as tough as not having a family. Family is number one,” Debbie said.

Rene Pozos, Harlingen, has been visiting the church’s meal giveaway for the past eight years.

“With the COVID-19, this is the best they could do and we are not going to let COVID-19 get in the way of us Americans. I got a plate for my elderly neighbors, too,” Pozos said.

Wicke said food was ready by 10:45 a.m. and the stuffing was prepared that morning. The plate included turkey, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, stuffing and a roll. People could choose from pumpkin or pecan pie.

“We have enjoyed meals before and usually we are helping but this year we are wanting to socially distance,” Julianne Jones, former volunteer, said.

“Normally we get to talk to people inside but this year is a little different. I think this is a great way to keep our public health measures in place but also continue giving and sharing in the community,” she concluded.