By Melody Vallieu
More than two decades later, a free Thanksgiving meal is being planned for the community for Thanksgiving Day.
An annual effort to bring the community together for the holidays, El Sombrero restaurant in Troy will offer a free Thanksgiving feast to the public.
Continuing to fulfill a promise he made to his mother to help his community, Ruben Pelayo, owner, will offer its annual community dinner from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 26 — or until the last visitor is served.
Pelayo said he has continued the free meal for a number of reasons, including making his mom and “American mom” Judy Rose proud. Serving the community, something also close to Pelayo’s heart, also propels him.
“It’s not just me. Yes, we started (the meal), but the community has kept it going,” said Pelayo, who has been honored by several organizations for his work in the community. “It’s the customers that volunteer and help keep it going for others who need — or want — this Thanksgiving meal.”
“It’s really a gift from Ruben’s heart. He has a need to help the community,” Rose said. “His mom brought him up very well.”
The meal, a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings, will be offered for dine-n only. There will be no carry-out or deliveries.
This year, with the closing of the Piqua restaurant at the end of October, Rose said she hopes those who normally went to the Piqua location for the free meal, will choose to travel just down the road to the 1700 N. County Road 25-A location.
“The Piqua customers know they are wanted and invited to the Thanksgiving meal,” Rose said Monday. “I think we’re going to have a really good response from the Piqua community as well. The staff and volunteers are ready for everyone.”
Both Pelayo and Rose stress that while they absolutely want to reach out to those in need, the meal is for anyone who wishes to have a good dinner or socialize with others.
“We have families that have made it their tradition to be here for Thanksgiving,” Rose said. “This is for the community. We want everybody to come and let us serve them.”
Employees begin cooking the some 125 turkeys the week prior to Thanksgiving in order to have them all ready for the dinner.
“I find it fun to come in the week before and smell turkeys cooking instead of Mexican food,” Rose said.
Rose said a core group of about 12 people help to plan the dinner each year, however, many more volunteer help in the restaurant on Thanksgiving Day. Employees, many from Mexico, are paid, and see the holiday as just another day of work, Rose said, as Thanksgiving is not recognized in their country.
The meal again will be a sit-down dinner, with each visitor being personally served.
“It’s like when you have people come to your home. You sit them down and wait on them,” said Rose, who said they see a lot of doctors and nurses on shift at UVMC come in for a quick meal. “Older people especially appreciate it.”
In recent years, the restaurant has received help from the public and vendors to offset the cost of the dinner. However, Rose said in all, the dinner will cost an estimated $14,000-$16,000, to serve the thousands of area residents that will visit the two locations. Rose said some of their suppliers — like Pepsi — donate supplies for the meal. Community members also drop off turkeys they either have purchased or received from their employers.
A table with homemade items, many made by Rose herself, also is set up in the Troy restaurant. And, any money made from the items — including handmade hats, slippers and even bags of buttons — is put directly into the fund for the annual meal.
Pelayo said he plans to continue the annual outreach to the community for as long as he can.
“I hope another 20 years, God willing,” Pelayo said.
Any leftover food from the meal is immediately donated to the Bethany Center in Piqua and St. Patrick Soup Kitchen in Troy, according to Pelayo. So much so that Rose said she sometimes can’t manage enough turkey to have a sandwich the day after.
“Whatever is left, it goes to the soup kitchens,” said Pelayo, who also supports both with monthly meat donations. “It serves the same purpose, feeding those who need it.”
Preparations for the next Thanksgiving event start the minute they close the doors on this year’s Thanksgiving Day dinner, Rose said. She said as soon as the restaurant is cleaned up, she and Pelayo sit down with the group of core volunteers and discuss what went well and any problems that came up. She said they then take notes and work on solving the problems for the next year.
Melody Vallieu can be reached at (937) 552-2131 or follow her on Twitter at @TroyDailyNews.