A growing number of Utahns view Thanksgiving not only as a day to kick back but also to give back.
About 300 volunteers arrived at Salt Lake City's Salvation Army office Thursday morning to help deliver traditional Thanksgiving meals to more than 500 seniors and needy families throughout the Salt Lake Valley.
"We've been doing Thanksgiving meals for 39 years," said Maj. Richard Greene, coordinator of Salt Lake City's Salvation Army Corp.
The recipients many of them homebound seniors receive two clam-shell plates laden with pie and whipped cream, turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans, vegetables and bread.
Troy Trimmer, a Salvation Army assistant from Riverton, said he arrived at 4:30 a.m. to gear up for the mass meal delivery.
"We precooked 36 turkeys Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday," Trimmer said.
He and others spent early Thanksgiving Day reheating the birds and cooking the fresh celebratory stuffing, mashed potatoes and yams.
"It's a lot of fun," Trimmer said.
Kaysville resident Rigo Gutierrez agrees. He and his wife, Alma, and their three daughters, ages 21, 19 and 14, have volunteered since 2001, when neighbors introduced them to the yearly event.
"They invited us and then we could never stop," Gutierrez said. "We have to do it every Thanksgiving."
Their happy tradition often goes further than the front door.
"What we're always looking for is when they open the door and say, 'Just come in,' " Gutierrez said, "and then we sit and chat and they tell us their stories. Most of the time it's elderly people, so they are full of stories, and I have nothing but ears to listen."
Antonio Narcisse, who plays center for the Utah Blaze, showed up with the arena football team's mascot and several teammates to lend a helping hand. Narcisse, from New Orleans, said he's happy to do it.
"I've eaten plenty of Thanksgiving meals, plenty pots of gumbo, it's time to just give back," Narcisse said. "It makes me feel good."
In a similar fashion, hordes of volunteers helped feed the hungry at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral campus in Salt Lake City.
Tables filled the church's social hall, where a piano player entertained with familiar tunes while volunteers served beverages and made sure all of the diners had their fill of the fragrant holiday fare.
In addition to the festive dinner, the church had also collected donations of clothing, canned food and hygiene kits to distribute to those in need.
James Christ, 19, made the three-hour drive from Pocatello last night to pitch in Thursday morning.
"I've got a big name to live up to," Christ grinned, noting that volunteering had become a habit. "My mom made it very clear that this is what needs to be done."
Nina Reed, 23, sat at one of the tables with her four children, who range in age from 2 months to 7 years old. Diners passed plates of rolls, and volunteers delivered plates of turkey and trimmings from the kitchen.
For almost two months, Reed said, she and her children have been living at The Road Home, Salt Lake City's homeless shelter. Her main hope, she said, is "to get back on my feet."
Father Elias Koucos, one of three Greek Orthodox priests in the area, said proceeds from September's Greek Festival are used to give back to the community. An estimated 600 to 700 people ate sit-down dinners at the church Thursday, Koucos said, and 200 meals were delivered to shut-ins.
Regardless of their circumstances, all showed good will and gratitude Thursday.
"I'm thankful to be part of a really solid community that actually cares about the people who live in it," said the Salvation Army's Trimmer, "whether they have means or don't have means."
Here come the red kettles
At 8 a.m. Friday, the Salvation Army will launch its annual Red Kettle Christmas campaign at Smith's Marketplace, 455 S. 500 East, Salt Lake City. The familiar kettles and bell-ringers help fuel the Salvation Army's programs throughout the year. For more information, go to www.salvationarmyutah.org.