Volunteers feed 1,000 in downtown Modesto

Raymond and Teresa Hamrick gave thanks Thursday for a meal that helped them stretch their budget.

They were first-time guests at the free Thanksgiving feast that has been put on for 27 years at Modesto Centre Plaza.

"We get $704 a month, and by the time we pay rent and utilities, we've got about a hundred bucks left," said Raymond Hamrick, a Modesto resident who, like his wife, is on disability.

"This is a nice thing they do here," Teresa Hamrick said of the volunteers putting on the early afternoon meal.

The event, Thanks for Giving, drew about 1,000 people, up from about 800 last year, said Dan Costa, a Modesto entrepreneur who organizes it with The Salvation Army.

He and his wife, Denise Costa, rounded up about 120 volunteers to cook, serve and clean up.

The guests, many of them homeless, dined on 48 turkeys and about 400 pounds of potatoes, 25 gallons of gravy, 50 gallons of corn and green beans, 20 large cans of cranberry sauce and 75 pumpkin pies.

"This really was excellent," Teresa Hamrick said afterward.

"I'm kind of impressed at Modesto doing it," her husband said.

John Hamilton of Modesto, who also is on disability, came for the first time since about 1995.

"It's good food and helps out a lot of people," he said while waiting in line outside the building. "Thank God for these people here."

The volunteers got instructions from Costa, whose past ventures included the Mallards and Velvet Creamery restaurants, then set to work. They served the guests with style — stainless steel flatware on each table and a sprig of parsley atop each china plate.

"I just like seeing people smile," said young volunteer Kalie Winn of Ripon. She served drinks while brother Bryan sprayed whipped cream from a can onto pie slices.

Costa said some of the volunteers have been helping for 20 years.

"They all work together great," he said. "I think it's as much a tradition for these people to come and help as it is for the people who come and eat."

Maj. Darvin Carpenter, The Salvation Army's top officer in Stanislaus County, said the increased turnout reflects the poor economy. The county's jobless rate last month was 16.6 percent, versus 11.5 percent a year earlier and 8.5 percent in October 2007.

Lavonne Lopez, who is staying at The Salvation Army homeless shelter in Modesto, took part in Thanks for Giving for a second straight year.

"It's not because of the food," she said. "It's giving thanks and everyone coming together under one roof and being happy."

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.