Welcoming the community: Salvation Army, Curb Side open doors for Thanksgiving feasts

November 24, 2018

Salvation Army Lts. Clara and Juan Gomez spent their first Thanksgiving in Odessa feeding the community Thursday with the traditional meal and plenty of sweets to round it out.

Clara Gomez said she and her family have been in Odessa for about six months.

“I started organizing probably back when I first got here when I found out we had to do a community meal, so I’m trying to put the puzzle pieces together of who, what, when, where, how,” she said.

Last year, the nonprofit fed more than 250 people and Clara Gomez said she was hoping to welcome the same number or more.

“We know the economy’s doing well, so what we’re mostly looking to target today is elderly and those who are homeless,” Clara Gomez said.

She added that both she and her husband were helped by the Salvation Army as children. She Clara Gomez grew up in Harlingen and her husband in McAllen.

“… It humbles me every day to know that I’m on the other side of the line now. I know what it’s like to need food, to be hungry, to depend on someone to give you a meal. Now I’m on the other side of that line, so it’s everything to me,” she said.

The couple attended seminary for two years and Odessa is their third appointment in five years. She said she and her family, which includes five children, are glad to be here.

“… It’s been great; great people helping us through our advisory board, our community partners, so we’re blessed to be here,” Clara Gomez said.

Although some people in Odessa are doing well in the oil and gas industry, Clara Gomez said there are others who are working two or three jobs, or on disability or fixed income.

“… So with that, we have to find that balance of being able to remember that we’re doing this because it’s for those people. We’re doing this for people who really need it,” she added.

Twenty-five volunteers gave of their time Thursday.

David Alvarez bought his three children. He has been giving back for more than 15 years.

“I love humans, so it’s all about serving people …,” Alvarez said.

“… We grew up poor … so Christmas, (the) Salvation Army used to come and give us gifts and stuff when we were younger so as a give-back when I got older I said I would come back and serve,” Alvarez said.

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis and Salvation Army volunteered for the first time on Thanksgiving. He’s also on the agency’s board.

“And so I’ve been somewhat involved in some of the goings on, but this is the first time I’ve ever volunteered here on Thanksgiving Day. I think it’s wonderful,” Griffis said.

He said out of all the charity organizations, the Salvation Army is very sincere.

“Most of the money that people donate goes to the care of the people that need their help. I think it’s a really great organization. It’s a Christian-based organization and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Griffis added.

He bought his girlfriend and family members with him.

“I’ve had a family meal on Thanksgiving every Thanksgiving for my entire life. There’s so many people out there that don’t get to have that. … I want to do my part to make sure some of those people get to have … Thanksgiving lunch,” Griffis said.

Ector County Hospital District board member Bryn Dodd took her 8-year-old daughter Madisyn to help.

“We came last year last year. I joined the Salvation Army advisory board, so we served last year. I volunteered as a child. That was very important for us growing up, so it’s something I’m continuing on with my children,” Dodd said.

Madisyn, who is in second grade at Embassy Academy, said giving back makes her feel happy.

Tony Sanchez, who attended the lunch, said he was grateful for the event and to God.

“… I enjoy eating dinner with strangers and people from all walks of life …,” Sanchez said.

Also opening its doors on Thursday was Curb Side Bistro. Chef and co-owner Alejandro Barrientos and his wife Stephanie Barrientos said the idea stemmed from an internship he had in Austin.

He said it was kind of like fate had him there for a reason. Around Thanksgiving, someone asked whether the restaurant was offering free turkey sandwiches and the chef said they were not.

“It was a man and his son. It just completely broke my heart,” Alejandro Barrientos said.

He said the chef in Austin was charging $80 to $100 a plate and it was considered fine dining, yet they couldn’t give away turkey sandwiches.

So Alejandro Barrientos said he and his wife decided to provide Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who wanted it. No questions asked.

“We’re opening up our home,” Alejandro Barrientos said. “This is our home. …”

Some 40 to 50 volunteers delivered food to the sheriff’s office and to those who could not leave their homes.

Stephanie and Alejandro Barrientos said this is the fourth year the restaurant has offered the free meals, which include turkey, honey glazed ham, cranberry sauce, rolls, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, buttered corn and tons of pies.

Stephanie said they were going to continue offering the meals as long as they can.

“I have a rollercoaster of emotions because we have the community coming together. We have people donating blankets and jackets and their own food and donating their time,” Alejandro Barrientos said.

“It’s very rewarding to see that and then the people are enjoying the food. That’s the biggest thing is not just giving away food, but it’s good food. People love it. They actually enjoy it,” he added. “That’s awesome.”

Josh Zuniga, senior pastor at Kingdom Church, which started about four months ago said he had about 32 volunteers at the restaurant.

“… One of the parts of our vision is we want to go outside of the four walls of the church,” Zuniga said.

He said church doesn’t only happen inside a church.

“The reason people came to Jesus is because he ministered to their needs, so we are going to make a conscious effort each month to get into the community and to spread God’s love,” he said.

Salome Anaya, a volunteer, said he thought Curb Side made a great gesture.

“It feels it feels good to give back to people less fortunate than us,” Anaya said.

Leah Pepper, another volunteer, said she has only lived in Texas for about a year.

“So finding little things like this is really nice,” Pepper said.

Yolanda Andujo, a diner, said she thought it was kind of the restaurant to open to everyone. She took her granddaughter with her.

“… It’s a very good idea. We’re very blessed to have someone like that … do this for the community,” Andujo said.

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