On Nov. 2, thousands of San Antonians rushed to access an online link that would allow them to volunteer for the first in-person Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner since 2019.
Within four hours, all 4,000 volunteer spots were filled.
After a two-year hiatus, the so-called “Feast of the Heart” is back in person at the Henry B. González Convention Center.
Patricia Jimenez, daughter of Raul Jimenez and president of the Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner nonprofit organization, said the community’s support after the two-year hiatus is a “testament to how much love there is in San Antonio and how devoted the community is to helping others.”
The holiday event started in 1979, when Raul Jimenez — a San Antonio restaurant owner and businessman — decided to provide a meal to elderly seniors and other residents who otherwise might not have anywhere to go.
The dinner grew to serve thousands, thanks to support from community partnerships and local businesses, and many volunteers return year after year.
By the time Raul Jimenez died in 1998, his legacy was sealed. The dinner had become a San Antonio tradition, said Patricia Jimenez.
“It’s a beautiful cause and I believe in it, but the support we received from the community when my dad passed away helped encourage us and helped us overcome our grief and move forward,” she said. “The dinner has been going strong ever since and we are just so grateful to the community.”
This year, the goal is to serve 25,000 people. Volunteers also will deliver another 3,500 meals to homes across San Antonio. According to the nonprofit, 250 turkeys will be served, totaling 9,400 pounds of meat, plus 3,000 pies and 25,000 dinner rolls.
Dinner festivities run from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the convention center on Thursday, Nov. 24. VIA Metropolitan Transit will provide free transportation to seniors 55 years and older with a photo ID.
When the pandemic began, organizers knew an in-person celebration would be a hazard, so they switched gears.
In 2020, the nonprofit delivered approximately 9,000 meals across San Antonio. Last year, it delivered 12,500 meals.
“The last two years, we’ve done what we could to help and we made it happen by delivering meals, but the essence of the event is to provide a warm meal, but also warm the heart of seniors and any families and underprivileged individuals who would otherwise do without,” Patricia Jimenez said. “For them, some of that is providing hope, helping show them love and treating them with respect and dignity.”
She described an example of how the dinner is meaningful for multiple generations of San Antonians.
“A single mom brought her son to the dinner,” she said. “Then, he was a little boy and experienced it as a dinner guest when his family was in need. Now he’s an executive and … brings his kids to help volunteer.”
Others who have benefited from the dinner are now back on their feet and volunteering their time, she said.
“This dinner has touched people in many different ways,” she said. “Everybody comes together for one common cause. Some people are on the receiving end, some people are on the giving end, but it’s the experience people take from that.”
In addition to volunteers who help prep, serve and clean up, elementary school students and Girl Scout troops are creating placemats and decorative pieces for the Thanksgiving Day dinner.