For many of Lodi’s homeless and less fortunate, a warm meal is hard to find when the temperatures drop in the winter months.

But on Thanksgiving Day, those who otherwise can’t afford a holiday meal were able to visit two places providing all the fixings of a home-cooked tradition.

The Salvation Army and Grace and Mercy Charitable Foundation spent Wednesday preparing hundreds of Thanksgiving meals for the less fortunate.

The day began at 8:30 a.m. for Grace and Mercy Charitable Foundation, where founder and director Cheryl Francis was aided by a dozen volunteers from the Omega Nu’s Alpha Delta Chapter and Lodi Pump irrigation — Laurel Ag and Water.

Francis was expecting to serve 250 meals — including turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, Waldorf salad and cranberry sauce — between 8 a.m. and noon at its 425 N. Sacramento St. location.

“This is our way of giving back to the community,” Francis said. “We have one of the most incredible Thanksgivings ever this year, because our community stepped up to help us out.”

Several businesses and residents donated 200 turkeys to Grace and Mercy this year, Francis said, including Grocery Outlet, Second Harvest Food Bank, Fiori’s Butcher Shoppe and Costco.

Tina Borra, a member of Omega Nu, said this was her third year helping Francis ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“I just think that at this time of year, the best gift you can give is your time,” Borra said. “Not everyone has time to get away from their lives and prepare food for others.”

Omega Nu is a volunteer group of local women dedicated to charitable work. Founded in 1926 in Lodi, the organization has helped a variety of local charities, and was instrumental in helping establish the Lodi House, among other accomplishments.

“Organizations like (Grace and Mercy Charitable Foundation) have the opportunity to give and move forward,” Borra said. “If I can be a part of that, I’m satisfied. Seeing how people give in this community is an inspiration to do more.”

Omega Nu member Ren Pham said helping out the foundation and those it serves was also a positive way to spend time with loved ones during the holidays.

“This is our version of a Friendsgiving,” she said. “It’s a chance to hang out and catch up, but give back to the community at the same time. Simply helping out makes us all feel good.”

Lodi resident Jeff Fleak was chopping celery and apples to make a Waldorf salad. November and December are the key times the community comes together to help others, he said.

“There are not too many opportunities throughout the year to give back,” he said. “So right now is a good time to get together with friends and family help out.”

Down the street at the Salvation Army’s Hope Harbor, food and beverage director Barry Crall and his culinary arts academy students were busy making mashed potatoes and gravy at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

He and the students had actually been preparing since Monday in anticipation of about 850 people sitting down for Thanksgiving at 622 N. Sacramento St. Another 250 meals were delivered to shut-in clients.

“All we do is the prep work,” Crall said. “It’s the community that comes in and volunteers their time to serve everyone. This is really an opportunity for the community of Lodi to provide service, not us.”

About 100 volunteers helped the Salvation Army on a rotating schedule throughout the day, he said, allowing everyone to spend time with their families while also giving back.

Volunteers also led clean-up efforts once the Thanksgiving meals were finished.

Although Crall credits the volunteers from Lodi for their holiday service, he said he has a heart for service thanks to the Salvation Army, which helped him fight addiction nearly 20 years ago.

“To be a part of this is a blessing for me,” he said. “I’m one of the fortunate ones who realized what I was supposed to do with my life, and this is it.”

Salvation Army Shelter Director John Narvaez said it is Crall and his students who make the Thanksgiving event happen every year, along with the volunteers who donate their time to help out.

“It literally takes an army to run the Army,” he said. “We feel it’s important to provide for those in need in our community at a point in time they otherwise can’t provide for themselves.”

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