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Beginning in November and through Christmas Eve,  H-E-B shares a holiday feast and good cheer with more than 250,000 Texans in 23 communities. According to H-E-B spokeswoman Dya Campos, that means more than 18,000 meals will be served in San Antonio at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

This includes working with Christian Senior Services, a local non-profit organization that works with Meals on Wheels, to see that the homebound get a good and hot holiday meal as well.

An estimated 18,000 people attended the H-E-B Feast of Sharing at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Photo by Page Graham.
An estimated 18,000 people attended the H-E-B Feast of Sharing at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Photo by Page Graham.

The H-E-B Feast of Sharing focuses on feeding the San Antonio community, literally and figuratively — no one is turned away. The tasty holiday fare will leave no one hungry on this crystal clear Saturday afternoon before Christmas, and the equally important element of gathering good people for communion and merriment are tended. VIA Metropolitan Transit even gets into the game with free fares for anyone headed to the event.

Greeters make everyone who attends feel truly special. Photo by Page Graham.
Greeters make everyone who attends feel truly special. Photo by Page Graham.

We were lucky with the weather today. As if by magic, the steady rain that accompanied the morning’s cold front abated at the appointed hour. The day’s festivities proceeded without fear of being soaked to the bone. The streets were busy as we made our way to the Feast, some people traveled alone with all their worldly possessions in tow, others were with their families.

As we entered, there was a gauntlet of cheering volunteers to welcome us inside, everyone was made to feel welcome. How often does that happen? Near the entrance, the H-E-B employee of the day — Santa — was perched on his throne with a line of children and parents waiting their turn to get a picture with the jolly old sprite.

Music was provided by The Luis Pontillo Orchestra and two other bands. Photo by Page Graham.
Music was provided by The Luis Pontillo Orchestra and two other bands. Photo by Page Graham.

The people of San Antonio know how to party. Whether you are rich or poor, it makes no difference to us. As Campos pointed out, “San Antonio is (H-E-B’s) largest dinner in the state. It is the longest standing at 21 years, and it really is a celebration. We have such a warm community and you really get a sense of that at the dinner. It is a time to have fun and celebrate.”

Volunteer Debbie Allen brings out yet another tray of food plates. Photo by Page Graham.
Volunteer Debbie Allen brings out yet another tray of food plates. Photo by Page Graham.

There was a sea of faces. Those who didn’t have a plate before them held up signs waiting for an attentive volunteer to take notice. A young woman named Jennifer was there with her shy, but lovely children, her mother, grandparents, and great grandfather – four generations. The Luis Pontillo Orchestra was on the stage and projected on giant screens, playing a mix of big band, conjunto, and Texas classics. As folks finished up their meals, dancing started.

Volunteers line up to await their turn to help out. Photo by Page Graham.
Volunteers line up to await their turn to help out. Photo by Page Graham.

More than 25,000 volunteers signed up to help out for the two days of preparation and service. I took a moment to chat with three volunteer cooks from the RK Group: Stephanie, Melanie and Christina.

“It’s really nice seeing all the volunteers working together,” said Stephanie as she sat down to a well-deserved meal with the other volunteer cooks. They had all arrived at 6 a.m. to begin cooking by seven; these good women had been at work for seven hours.

Volunteers Stephanie and Melanie of the RK Group take a well-deserved break. Photo by Page Graham.
Volunteers Stephanie and Melanie of the RK Group take a well-deserved break. Photo by Page Graham.

Representatives from more than 20 non-profit community service organizations were also represented at the event. This was a golden opportunity to get information out to families and individuals that are in need. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas had a booth with information and a navigator available to assist with health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act. The Lions Club International had their mobile eye screening unit.

“We hope to screen 150 people here today for glaucoma and diabetes-related problems, but to tell you the truth, 80 percent will not get in to see a doctor,” Spokesman Chris Lloyd said. The Lions Club also provided eyeglasses to those in need.

Volunteers from the Children's Museum encourage kids to be creative. Photo by Page Graham.
Volunteers from the San Antonio Children’s Museum encourage kids to be creative. Photo by Page Graham.

Children flocked to the San Antonio Children’s Museum booth, where volunteers worked with them to create ornaments and gift bags. There was also face painting and holiday-themed tattoos. There was something really touching about these children. There were so many, and they quietly, politely waited their turn to take part in the festivities. While the kids played, some moms took advantage of a mini-makeover. This was the brainchild of Rachel Miracle and Sabrina Reyes. They work in the salon at the H-E-B off Evers and 281. This was their first year, and they said they hope to make it even bigger next year.

Yesenia Bazan of the San Antonio Food Bank discusses their goals for the Feast of Sharing. Photo by Page Graham.
Yesenia Bazan of the San Antonio Food Bank discusses their goals for the Feast of Sharing. Photo by Page Graham.

The San Antonio Food Bank and the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program were two very popular vendors. Yesenia Bazan, assistant manager for the organization’s client services, said their goal was to “provide application assistance for the food bank and to conduct the initial SNAP interview. We hope to take care of 100 people today.”

"Mrs. Claus" joins an Air Force Airman in a cumbia dance. Photo by Page Graham.
“Mrs. Claus” joins an Air Force Airman in a cumbia dance. Photo by Page Graham.

Let’s face it, we are looking at some sobering statistics here in Texas. According to the San Antonio Food Bank, we are in the top eight states for food insecurity in the country. In Bexar County alone, one in five adults struggle with hunger, and one in four children are at risk of being food insecure. Since 1982, H-E-B has been working on the front lines with their Food Bank Assistance Program. They work year-round to battle hunger, not only in Texas, but in Mexico as well.

H-E-B is the largest donor to food banks across the state, increasing their contribution year after year. The company is in constant communications with local food banks and they expect to see another increase this year. Campos told me about their recent outreach in the realm of fresh food, participating in the record-setting Harvest to the Heart event earlier this month with the San Antonio Food Bank. “Fresh foods — produce and proteins — are hard to come by and this is what families need the most. H-E-B tries to focus on that.”

The cumbia dance circle is always a popular attraction. Photo by Page Graham.
The cumbia dance circle is always a popular attraction. Photo by Page Graham.

Making our way back home, it was impossible not to reflect on our own good fortune. I often hear the saying, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

But perhaps, not often enough. This axiom is unfortunately becoming more true with each passing day, this widening gap between the haves and have-nots. The Feast of Sharing is not only an opportunity to reach out and help once a year, but also a reminder that the need exists each and every day – it’s an opportunity to reflect on ways to do better, help out your fellow man, laugh, smile and dance to the music.

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Tami Kegley has lived the life of an artist. Through multiple careers — dancer, percussionist, performance artist, sculptor, goldsmith, gallerist — she has pursued her need to create. The Great Recession brought changes, and now she’s back and discovering the art world of San Antonio, one happening at a time.

Page Graham has been a resident of San Antonio – on and off – for over 30 years now. He has moved into the corporate world, making a living developing training materials and Powerpoint presentations and all that stuff we need to do in order to make a living. But now he’s back – aqui en el corazón de San Antonio – enjoying life to its fullest. 

The Rivard Report is one place that you can follow their trails, as is www.artblogsa.com.

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Tami Kegley

Tami Kegley has lived the life of an artist. Through multiple careers — dancer, percussionist, performance artist, sculptor, goldsmith, gallerist — she has pursued her need to create. The Great Recession...