MERCED — Just a few short days ago, Pastor Prapai Wanlarbkam of the Merced County Rescue Mission was in a state of panic.
With fewer than 200 donated turkeys, how would he feed the 3,000 people expected to show up for a Thanksgiving meal this year?
But the Merced community pulled together -- as it has so many times before -- and now there's enough food to feed not only the 400 families on Thanksgiving, but hundreds of people year-round.
"As of now, we've received over 1,200 turkeys," Wanlarbkam said. "I feel wonderful; I feel blessed."
The mission spread the generosity by donating about 472 of the turkeys to other nonprofits around the county.
Some of those organizations, including Catholic Charities of Merced and Valley Harvest Church, will put the turkeys in their annual food boxes given out to those in need.
"I feel that the community came together in a time of need like they always do, and I'm so proud of the effort of the community," Wanlarbkam said. "Without the community, this feeding would not be possible."
The mission will cook about 200 turkeys for Thanksgiving this year and keep the rest in cold storage to feed families later.
Through outreach efforts, the mission provides meals seven days a week, adding up to more than 800 to 1,000 meals served.
The mission also helps feed less-fortunate people in other parts of Merced County, including Dos Palos, Livingston and Planada.
The generosity of Merced County, especially in a time of need, never ceases to amaze Wanlarbkam, who called the community "the best in the state."
"It shows that this community will come together in a time of need," Wanlarb-kam noted. "We are small, but we take care of our own."
Wanlarbkam, who's been with the mission for five years, said this year's turkey donations beat out last year by 400 turkeys. The mission had 800 turkeys donated last year.
And the result of the community's generosity means more families will have a warm turkey dinner, complete with all the fixings, today.
"No one will go hungry this Thanksgiving, and everyone will have a meal," Wanlarbkam said.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.