As American families prepare to gather and celebrate this year’s Thanksgiving Day on November 24, local businesses and The Salvation Army in Orlando, Florida are busy with something else. They’re preparing for what has become known as “Florida’s Largest Community Thanksgiving Meal.”
Spearheaded by prominent Florida businessman Eric Holm who owns 26 franchise outlets of Golden Corral restaurants, and the Salvation Army of Orlando, the annual “Helpings from the Heart” will once again invite thousands of people to Florida’s biggest Thanksgiving feast, aiming to help those who are homeless and are in need. Now on its 16th year, the feast will be held at The Salvation Army of Orlando’s gymnasium and will serve guests from 11am until 5pm of Thanksgiving Day.
The organizers are expecting to serve more than 25,000 meals this year, a lot higher than last year’s 18,500. Local chefs in the state, wearing quality yet inexpensive chef coats, along with 1,200 volunteers, are helping out prepare turkey and the fixings that go with it, with plans of continuous cooking until everyone is served. The meals will be served in unlimited portions, and the organizers are also making to-go meals available. More than 1,000 volunteers from the Salvation Army will be at the venue the whole day to assist in serving the guests.
“Helpings from the Heart” was founded by Holm sixteen years ago, and over the years has gained the support of a lot of Florida’s nonprofit communities, local businesses and corporations. Such support includes MBM Food Services, U.S. Foods, Bubbalous Bar-b-q, New York Bakery, Action Ice and Harvill’s Produce. Sprint is also helping out, providing cell phones to those who want to contact home and locate lost family members or friends. Pepsi is donating beverages for the occasion.
“At the time that I started this event sixteen years ago, there was also an economic downturn,” said Holm. “I saw the situation of many and realized the blessings my family and I have. I felt the desire to share these with others.”
Aside from the event being his own way of giving back to society, the gesture is also Holm’s way of returning the favor to The Salvation Army which had once provided a Thanksgiving meal to his family when he was a child. Now that he is president and owner of Metro Corral Partners which operates 26 franchise outlets of the Golden Corral restaurant chain, he says that the restaurant takes great pride in what it does to the community.
Everyone is welcome to partake of the meal. “Our guests don’t have to be ‘in need’ financially to avail of the free Thanksgiving meal that our chefs in superior chef coats prepare. We also wish to welcome those who are alone during this day and may need some company,” said Major Andrew Kelly, Salvation Army of Orlando Area Commander. “These meals have always been seen as a blessing by those that we serve, and we can see that this year will do so much more good than the previous years.”
Golden Corral has 493 locations in 41 states in America, and has its headquarters in Raleigh, NC. The Salvation Army is an international group that is an evangelical component of the worldwide Christian Church.