Joni Smith (right) hugs H-E-B volunteer Emma Castelo, 11, after sharing a dance.
Joni Smith hugs volunteer Emma Castelo, 11, after sharing a dance at the 26th annual Feast of Sharing. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The volunteers were in place, the chefs’ work completed, and at last it was time for thousands of guests to flood into the Henry B. González Convention Center exhibit halls Saturday for the 26th annual Feast of Sharing.

Dozens of H-E-B employees and many more community volunteers helped serve the meals, and pharmacy workers were on hand to administer free flu shots.

Debbie Knieriem was one of the first people to greet guests as they came through the door. “It’s the spirit of Christmas to see people as they come in the door … to make them all feel welcome,” said Knieriem, a first-time volunteer who learned of the event from a nephew who works for H-E-B.

Chefs worked for days preparing what the grocery company estimated was 3,500 pounds of glazed ham, 202 gallons of gravy, 3,500 pounds of mashed potatoes, 2,625 pounds of green beans, 14,000 dinner rolls, and 1,750 apple pies. The 26th annual holiday dinner was free and open to the public but was offered particularly to those in San Antonio who might not get a warm and filling meal filled with Christmas cheer.

H-E-B hosts similar meals in two dozen cities and towns throughout Texas during November and December.

“I volunteer to pay my blessings forward,” said Associated Distributors Inc. employee Norma Gonzales, who helped plate the meals this year — her seventh for Feast of Sharing.

This is the second year that Denver Kopecki has helped serve food to guests. “My husband, my two boys, and I, we just want to do it every year. It’s a wonderful opportunity to give. I see a lot of happy people this year.”

Mary Jaramillo raved over her meal – and Feast of Sharing itself. “I really liked everything,” she said. “I liked the ham, but I liked the pie the best. I love sweets! This is a fantastic thing that you are all doing.”

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Bonnie Arbittier

Bonnie Arbittier is a photojournalist raised in upstate New York and rural Pennsylvania. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Fine Arts and French. After completing...