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Free Thanksgiving dinner for 2,000

Event aims to serve meals Thursday to homeless & those alone

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Free Thanksgiving dinner for 2,000

Steve Winter and Jeff Liotard prepare the brine solution before placing in a turkey.

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin


POSTED November 27, 2013 12:47 a.m.

Brian Mills was on the phone all-day Monday.

When he wasn’t talking – which seemed like all of the time – he was clearing voicemail messages so that people who couldn’t actually reach him could leave him a message and hope to hear back from him in the next 24 hours.

Yes, as the chairman for the Sunrise Kiwanis/Manteca Noon Rotary Community Thanksgiving Dinner – which will be held on Thursday at Mountain Mike’s Pizza from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. – Mills is a busy guy.

But it’s not one of those things where he’s overloaded and isn’t getting enough help. As Mills took a two-minute break to grab a drink, half-a-dozen volunteers from the Noon Rotary laid out more than 120 buckets behind Mountain Mikes as he watched. The orange Home Depot buckets would soon be full of a brine solution and then one of the 125 frozen turkeys that sat on a pallet outside of Jeff Liotard’s Central Manteca business.

The event, which started several years ago with only 20 people attending the first dinner, has grown that much in the short time since. The 85 turkeys prepared last year were gone, and counters stopped counting how many meals went out at just under 1200.

And even more people are expected to come through this year. Organizers are prepared to feed up to 2,000 people.

Because the event is a collaborative one, there are a number of people that are visibly associated with it – Liotard, for example, who donates the use of his restaurant as part of Rotary service – and there are also those who prefer to operate from the shadows.

Each of those 125 turkeys were purchased this year (likely on a discount through Second Harvest Food Bank) by a prominent Manteca figure through his organization that he’d rather keep out of the limelight.

For the most part, the men who showed up Monday night to start the brining process would all, more or less, like to keep themselves out of the limelight and have the community – the people that donate the money that makes this event possible – be the focal point.

Because for many, it’s a family affair. Liotard, his wife Tevani and their two daughters have spent more Thanksgiving mornings serving other people in the last decade than they have sitting on their comfortable couch at home watching football like the rest of America.

John Brennan, of Roadrunner Glass, typically shows up with his entire family to help serve the meal, and Rob Gross and his family gave up their night before Thanksgiving last year by seasoning all of the turkeys just before they went into the oven and placed each of them into a cooking bag.

“We call Manteca The Family City, and that’s what this is about,” Liotard said. “Everybody gets their hall pass from me on Thanksgiving. I don’t care who you are, you’re coming down here and you’re eating. This is where we see the type of community that we live in.”

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