Just weeks away before he died of cancer in 2017, Chicano activist Jaime P. Martinez told his son Ernest Martinez it was important to him that the San Antonio community keep holding the annual Thanksgiving in the Barrio event he’d started eight years prior.
“I remember the conversation with him, and he said, ‘People need this. Don’t stop Thanksgiving,’” Ernest Martinez said. “Of all the things, that was on his mind.”
Now named after his father, the annual event has grown immensely. The first event in 2009 raffled off 10 turkeys to Westside families from inside the Cesar Chavez Community Center. This year’s drive-thru event – the 11th Annual Jaime P. Martinez Thanksgiving in the Barrio – gave away full Thanksgiving meals to almost 600 families, Martinez said.
Hosted by the Cesar Chavez Legacy and Educational Foundation (CECLEF) and sponsored by H-E-B, around 50 masked-up volunteers passed out the meal kits Saturday morning to families driving through the Last Chance Ministries parking lot.
The event has gained more interest and traction each year, Martinez said, adding last year was the first year CECLEF had partnered with Edgewood ISD, and this year was the first time partnering with Last Chance Ministries.
“My father grew up just a few blocks from here,” he said. “These were his people.”
A leading event volunteer, community activist, and Northwest Vista College instructor Keli Rosa Cabunoc Romero said she was glad to see so many young people help put with the event this year. Romero said many of her own students, as well as students from Edgewood ISD, helped pre-package the 570-plus bags of food, which included pumpkin pie, potatoes, green beans, and a voucher for an H-E-B turkey.
With San Antonio’s West Side being made up of a historically Hispanic population and many older Chicano activists also volunteering, the event turned out to be a great way to engage her students in Chicano studies and for them to learn more about San Antonio’s Chicano history, Romero said.
While the event has been held indoors in former years and had over 100 volunteers, this year’s event had to be held a little differently so it could be pandemic-safe, Romero said.
“We decided to just make it a drive-thru event so people won’t be out and mingling and all that,” he said. “In past years we’ve had refreshments and raffles, and it’s a big event.”
Last Chance Ministries Pastor Jimmy Robles said the event is truly a blessing on the West Side and helps a lot of families so they don’t have to worry about having a meal this Thanksgiving.
Martinez added that feeding the hungry is the most basic way a community can help its people. That’s especially important this year with the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
This year is the largest giveaway for the event to date, Martinez said, topping last year’s giveaway of 400 meal kits. He added that need in general has been greater this year with so many San Antonians facing food insecurity due to the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic.
Thanksgiving in the Barrio is one of many food distribution events in San Antonio . Since the start of the pandemic and ensuing economic crisis, the San Antonio Food Bank has doubled the number of people it feeds each week from 60,000 to 120,000.
And like the Thanksgiving in the Barrio event, this year’s 41st annual Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner has also adapted to be pandemic-friendly. Rather than seating people at long tables inside the Henry B. González Convention Center next month, organizers will bring the dinner to community members in their homes.
Martinez said planning has already begun for the 12th Annual Jaime P. Martinez Thanksgiving in the Barrio event, and that he hopes the event will be able to go back to being an in-person pick-up next year.
“We already have folks calling and asking how they can help next year,” he said.
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