The 41st annual Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner, like many other traditions in San Antonio this year, will look quite different during the coronavirus pandemic.

The free feast that in recent years has fed nearly 25,000 people inside the Henry B. González Convention Center exhibit hall will be smaller in scale and mobile this year. An estimated 10,000 dinners will be hand-delivered by hundreds of volunteers on Thursday, Nov. 26, to seniors and low-income families across Bexar County.

The dinner started in 1979 when restaurateur Raul Jimenez and his wife, Mary, wanted to honor and support senior citizens, who are often alone during the holiday. About 200 gathered in a parking lot of one of Jimenez’s restaurants for the feast. The event has since grown to fill the convention center exhibit hall.

“We are honored to carry on this beautiful San Antonio tradition and to honor my grandparents’ legacy,” said event organizer Jessica Jimenez, Raul and Mary’s granddaughter. “This year, the environment is much different. However, we remain committed to our founding mission of serving thousands of senior citizens, underprivileged families, and individuals experiencing homelessness during the Thanksgiving season.”

The nonprofit is partnering with Meals on Wheels and other organizations to reach residents who would otherwise likely go without a holiday dinner, Jimenez said.

“It’s important to consider safety, health, and sanitation this Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.

The meals will still be prepared in the convention center – with additional personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, and Plexiglass screens – and volunteer drivers will line up in their vehicles to receive meals for delivery.

The greatest need this year, in addition to monetary donations, is volunteer drivers, Nirenberg said before cutting the first ceremonial pumpkin pie during a virtual press conference on Tuesday. Volunteers are encouraged to sign up here.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg cuts a pumpkin pie during a virtual press conference on Tuesday. Credit: Courtesy / Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner Facebook

Thanksgiving 365, the annual fundraiser for Inner City Development, also kicked off on Tuesday with dozens of volunteers pledging to fast until they reach their fundraising goals. The nonprofit serves some of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the West Side with an emergency food pantry as well as offering educational and recreational programs.

“People really are very aware of hunger around Thanksgiving time, but the truth of it is, is hunger is an issue 365 days a year,” said Inner City co-founder and former City Councilwoman Patti Radle.

The money raised, $30,000 is this the goal, will keep the food pantry stocked year-round to provide more than 60,000 meals to families in crisis.

Meanwhile, organizers of the San Antonio Food Bank’s annual Turkey Trot 5K fundraiser, set for Nov. 26, have made adjustments, too.

Pre-pandemic, walkers and runners would gather at the Commander’s House at H-E-B’s headquarters and follow a route through downtown and the historic King William neighborhood. This year, participants can complete their run anywhere they like. Entrance fees range from $30 to $40, with proceeds benefitting the food bank.

“The pandemic has brought on a season of need, unlike anything we have seen before,” said Eric Cooper, the food bank’s president and CEO, in a prepared statement. “More than ever our community needs us. On behalf of myself, my staff and our community thank you for continued support in these uncertain times.”

The Food Bank, which provides food to families in 16 counties in Southwest Texas, also will host a virtual interfaith prayer and song service on Nov. 22 at 6 p.m.

The Antioch Baptist Church, CityChurch, Divine Redeemer Presbyterian, Masjid Luqman, Temple Beth-El, The Raindrop Foundation, and Archbishop of San Antonio Gustavo Garcia-Siller are slated to participate, according to a press release. “This service will be an opportunity to reflect on the year and give thanks for the energy that holds us together and encourages us to help each other in times of need.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org