MERCED — Rafael Farias was leaving the American Legion Hall on Thursday holding a plastic bag with his leftover Thanksgiving Day meal.
"I'm taking it home for dinner," the 60-year-old Merced resident said with a smile.
Farias was among thousands of people who showed up to the annual Merced County Rescue Mission's Thanksgiving Day Feed. The event took place at the American Legion Hall from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
People started lining up between 5:30 and
6 a.m., said Pastor Prapai Wanlarbkam. His crew of volunteers was able to feed 2,096 people.
The Thanksgiving Day Feed went better than expected, Wanlarbkam said. The mission was hoping to collect 250 turkeys for the event, but more than 1,200 turkeys were donated.
"We thank the community for their support and it went great because of them," he said.
Farias, who doesn't have any family, said he has been attending the event for years. "It helps a lot of people," he said before leaving.
Augusta Alejo, 52, of Merced, showed up at 9 a.m. "I came right before they opened to stand in line," she said. "It took a while to get the food."
But once she got her meal, she was
satisfied. "It was good," she said.
Alicia Santiago, 26, of Merced went to the feed with her three children -- two sons, ages 4 and 9, and her daughter, 8. This was her second year attending the free community gathering.
"It's great because a lot of people come here to have a good time with the family," she said in Spanish.
Not only the food attracted families to the Thanksgiving festivities.
Fabiola Lopez, 20, was sorting through various pieces of donated clothing put out on tables for people to go through. "Let's see what I can find for me and for my child," she said in Spanish.
Lopez, who's unemployed, went to the event with her 3-year-old son and her parents. She said she has been looking for a job but hasn't had any luck.
"I wish there were no more drugs and that there were jobs so we didn't have to come to events like this," she said. "We thank the people who helped us with this."
Luis Garcia was volunteering for the first time at the feed with his family.
"I'm happy they came over," he said. "This is the first time, and is not the last. We are coming back."
His daughter Alexandra, 16, said the family wanted to give back to the community.
It gave them a different kind of holiday experience, Garcia's wife, Carmen, said. "They were very emotional, they wanted to cry," she said of their children.
Their other daughter, Vanessah, 19, said she enjoyed talking with the different people she helped while serving food.
"It was nice to see smiles on their faces," she said.
The Garcia family had plans to get together with their relatives for their own Thanksgiving Day dinner on Thursday night -- and "give thanks for what we have," Carmen said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482, or firstname.lastname@example.org.