By Cristina Blackwell
La Prensa de San Antonio
SAN ANTONIO -- On Thanksgiving Day, millions say grace, offer a blessing, and whisper a meditation or bow their heads in prayer as friends, families, neighbors and community members gather around the table to give thanks.
Those sentiments gather strength Thursday, November 25, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The 31st Annual Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner, one of the largest Thanksgiving dinners in the country, reaches out to senior citizens, the homeless and those who just need a hot meal and a little friendship.
Raul Jimenez in his famus outfit for thr Thanksgiving donner
(Courtesy photo )
"For some, it is the only meal that they are going to have that day, for others it is a place where they can share great company, and for everyone in San Antonio it is an opportunity to do the right thing," Mayor JuliÃ¡n Castro said.
Originally held in Fort Worth, Texas, Raul Jimenez moved the long-established tradition to San Antonio in 1979, where he served thousands of senior citizens free Thanksgiving dinners at his very own expense.
"He was very charismatic and truly humanitarian," said Patricia Jimenez, daughter of Raul Jimenez. "He really cared about the well-being of people."
To him, Thanksgiving was much more than eating turkey, watching football, flashy parades or getting the best discounts. It was about filling an empty room with the warmth, joy and spirit of holiday, and giving back to the community for all the blessings he received.
"His motto was, 'You come to this world with nothing, and you leave with nothing. What counts is what you do in between,'" added Patricia. "And that's how he pretty much lived his life."
Jimenez passed away on October 26, 1998, but his dream lives on, thanks in part to his daughter Patricia who now chairs the event.
"It's the way I show the love I have for my dad," she confessed. "But more importantly I see what he saw, and I'm very grateful that he was able to set such a wonderful example of sharing and helping the less fortunate."
Today, the event relies on dona- tions, corporate sponsorships, and a corps of more than 4,000 community volunteers to help feed the estimated 30,000 guests. Additionally, fund- raisers are held throughout the year in preparation for the event.
Each year volunteers prepare more than 450 turkeys, 6,700 lbs. of yams, 6,700 lbs. of canned green beans, 7,800 lbs. of stuffing, 5,700 lbs. of cranberry sauce and over 30,000 dinner rolls. For dessert, guests can expect at least 3,000 pumpkin pies to be on hand.
"Every year it gets bigger and better and we have more support," stated Patricia. "That's just a wonder- ful testament to all of the people that live in San Antonio and everyone that worked so hard making sure all of this is a great success."
Having worked for nearly a decade with the Jimenez family, public relations manager of the Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner, Michele Krier, has come to see not only the dedica- tion the family has to making the dinner a success, but how much time and effort Patricia puts into the event.
"It's basically a full-time job to prepare everything," Krier said. "Anyone who comes in for the first time realizes how inspiring the Raul Jimenez Dinner is."
Preparations begin the Sunday before Thanksgiving when the turkeys are delivered to the Conven- tion Center kitchen. On Monday, volunteers start deboning and roasting turkeys, averaging 150 birds per day.
The tables are set Wednesday, and on Thanksgiving Day, food is served from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. An All-Faith Worship Service will initiate the event at 10 a.m.
"The fact that for  years thousands of San Antonians come together on Thanksgiving to donate to volunteer their time, says something about who we are as a community," said Mayor Castro. "It has been wonderful to see over the years all of the thousands of volunteers who show up, and more than anything else also to see the joy of the faces of so many of our senior citizens and members of the San Antonio community that have a place to be in Thanksgiving."
The afternoon offers free musical entertainment volunteered by many of San Antonio's most popular bands such as Rocky Hernandez & the Oldies but the Goodies Band, Eddie and the All Niters, Mariachi Bondad, Los Astronautas, The Tanguna Band, and singer/songwriter Erica Gonzaba.
In addition, Time Warner Cable of San Antonio will offer free long distance calls to anywhere on the North American continent, allowing seniors and San Antonio families to speak with loved ones far away.
"Being able to see the people call friends and relatives all over the world is just outstanding," stated Gavino Ramos, vice president of communications for Time Warner Cable. "We have phone systems set up so that they can make international calls so they're calling friends from across the street to across the world, and that's been a wonderful experience."
VIA and Y ellow Checker Cab will help again with transportation this year. City Tours is providing free service for groups of seniors from throughout the city who would otherwise have no way to get to the dinner. Seniors may ride free from the city's senior nutrition centers. Furthermore, bus fare will be free on VIA and Yellow Checker Cab will help deliver meals to home-bound seniors.
Undoubtedly, the Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving holiday tradition represents love, unity, compassion, and the chance to give unselfishly. "It's not just a Jimenez family tradition; it's a San Antonio tradition. As a family, we are grateful that San Antonio has kept my father's dream alive," concluded Patricia.
Volunteer positions are full, however, those wishing to make a contribution to help with dinner expenses are asked to send a check payable to: Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner, Sterling Bank, P.O. Box 200010, San Antonio, Texas 78220. Online credit card donations and sponsorships will be accepted to help pay for food costs at www.rauljimenezdinner.com.