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Free turkey meal today at Mt. Mikes
Morgan Gross makes sure that the pumpkin pie 1,600 slices in all is ready to go. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

Joanne Gross had an important job Wednesday night.

She represented the end of the line – the person tasked with tying off turkey seasoning bags before the birds, more than 10 dozen in all, ended up inside of the oven and one-step closer to the community meal table at Mountain Mike’s Pizza.

It was a new job for Gross, who until this year would make routine trips from San Mateo to participate in what has become a family tradition. But now that she’s a Manteca resident, Gross is able to take an ownership role in the work she puts in.

“It feels good to be able to help people. You get a lot of pleasure out of it,” said Gross, pointing at the pile to bag twists that she’s responsible for. “I used to come down and spend time with my family by doing this, but now I don’t have to travel and there’s a new level of appreciation there. It adds something to Thanksgiving, being able to help out.”

The Sunrise Kiwanis and the Manteca Noon Rotary will once again provide a complimentary Thanksgiving dinner for the less fortunate in the community, feeding those who want to come down at Mountain Mike’s Pizza at North Main Street and Louise Avenue today from 11 a.m. to 2 Manteca.

Last year organizers stopping counting at around their 1,200th meal and expanded their offering this year by roughly 25 percent – hoping to be able to serve between 1500 and 1900 people over the course of the three-hour block of time.

Like last year, to-go meals will once again be offered, and meals will be also be delivered to seniors and the homebound.

“There’s just something special about being able to help people,” said Debbie Gross – who was tasked Wednesday with adding flour to the seasoning bags so that the turkeys don’t stick. “Volunteering your time is very rewarding and it’s always been our family’s thing to pay it forward.

“A lot of people do what they can during Christmas but Thanksgiving often gets forgotten about. We want to do what we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”