The generous holiday spirit was on full display last Thursday during the 29th annual Holte Holiday Dinner in Hollister when more than 300 people were served a hot Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings.
About seventy volunteers of all ages prepared the traditional meal, which included smoked turkey, roast potatoes, mixed vegetables, tortillas, cranberry sauce, homemade salsa, pies and Portuguese sweet bread.
Volunteers started preparations the night before at Sacred Heart Parish School, clearing the cafeteria, setting up tables and ensuring all was ready to start smoking the two dozen turkeys early Thanksgiving morning.
“We started smoking the turkeys at 5am,” said Eduardo Servin, who has been volunteering at the event for the past 20 years. Like many of the volunteers, Servin brought along his children to take part in the charitable endeavor. His son Ulysses helped prepare the food while his other son, Manuel, arrived promptly at 11:15am—15 minutes ahead of schedule—to deliver 64 prepared meals to homebound seniors and the homeless.
Servin said the drivers, who are equipped with pizza delivery style pouches to keep the food warm, take the food to homeless encampments at Dunne Park in Hollister and along the banks of the San Benito River.
“It is a lot of work but it is just a couple times out of the year and the work makes us proud,” said Jose Ramirez, another volunteer. “Sometimes we are here until 6 or 7 o’clock to clean up but at least we have a roof over our head and some of these do not. We need to do this.”
An hour before the dinner was to be served, the cafeteria was a buzz with activity, as people started to line up outside the doors.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 6 years old,” said volunteer Tiffany Bustos. “I’m 29 now and I bring my daughter, Tiger Lily, who is 6 years old.”
Bustos is also in the kitchen with her dad, Russell.
“I just like doing it—I’ve grown up doing it,” said Bustos, who along with her dad and daughter will eat their Thanksgiving meal alongside their guests in the school cafeteria. Their own family meal will be held another day. “Just seeing the faces is super rewarding. It makes me feel good inside.”
At another table are the “chili chicks,” so-called because the group of ladies and their daughters are busy chopping and dicing the fresh ingredients—tomatoes, onions, tomatillos—that will make up the meal’s fresh salsa.
“We are making it an annual tradition to get down here and help out. I think it is important to give back to the community,” said Sabrina Tobia, who brought her 12-year-old daughter, Marisa to volunteer.
The dinner, which was started in 1988 by Marley Holte, a retired educator in the region and one of the founders of the Rotary Club in San Juan Bautista, has been a mainstay in the Hollister community for nearly three decades.
But, said current chairman, Ruben Lopez, due to a drop in donations the last couple years and an aging volunteer pool, this year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas meals may the the group’s last.
“All good things come to an end sometimes,” said Lopez. “San Juan Bautista has a Christmas dinner and people there can just walk up to the mission but in Hollister it is a bit different.”
While this year’s Thanksgiving dinner had a “pretty good” volunteer turnout, said Lopez, it is a lot of work to fundraise and put on the two events each year. Lopez and other longtime volunteers expressed their wish that others in the community would feel inspired to pick up the gauntlet and carry on the tradition.
Because, Lopez said, the need is still great.
“Our delivery list grew. If we opened it up we would probably be delivering two to three hundred meals,” he said.