If it weren't for the Salvation Army and its army of volunteers, Thursday would have been just an average day for a number of homebound elderly in the Omaha area.
Instead, Thanksgiving lived up to its name, with about 1,550 needy people 55 and older receiving a hot holiday meal courtesy of the Salvation Army Kroc Center's TurkeyFest 2013 and its more than 160 volunteers, who cooked, prepared and delivered the donated goodies for the 21st consecutive year.
“Thank you so much. This is so nice,'' Toni Hahn, 84, said as her meal of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green beans, rolls and cookies was delivered. “The Salvation Army has always been so good to me.''
Hahn, who lives southwest of South 48th and Q Streets, said she drives occasionally but doesn't get around like she used to when she was a registered nurse and grew up near 35th and V Streets. She said she also lost her right eye as an 8-year-old, and she used to perform all sorts of volunteer work when younger, including at the Salvation Army center near 40th and Cuming Streets.
“I've lived in this house for 52 years,'' she said from her porch. “And I used to work in my yard a lot, too.''
Hahn expressed thankfulness for the meal to her volunteer delivery couple — Jake and Sabrina Rowland of Omaha. She gave them a loaf of blueberry banana nut bread and two hand-knitted potholders. The visit to her doorstep lasted about 10 minutes, with Jake Rowland, 27, offering to take her on a Sons of Italy lunch date some day.
The Rowlands were among 155 drivers delivering about 10 to 12 dinners each. Sabrina Rowland, 29, said she felt a need to help on the holiday.
“I just hope I don't cry,'' she said. “Some of these people will really tug at my heart.''
The volunteers began meal preparations Wednesday at the Kroc Center, 2825 Y St.
D.D. Launderville, director of senior services for the local Salvation Army, said volunteers were to have been wrapped up by noon Thursday, giving them plenty of time to spend the holiday with their families.
“Each year it gets a little bit smoother,'' she said about the well-organized meal-distribution operation.
Those requesting free meals registered via a Kroc Center hot line or were referred to the Salvation Army through an agency that helps the needy, Launderville said.
“This is America's celebration,'' she said about Thanksgiving and volunteering on the holiday. “We need to acknowledge it and share it with others.
“When you sit down at a table of food and you know that you helped ... what a neat feeling,'' she said.
Kevin Newlin, 44, of Omaha, a chef at the Kroc Center, volunteered a long shift preparing food on what could have been a day off.
“I love to give back,'' he said. “I feel very grateful for what I have, mainly four healthy kids.''
For Doug Thoms, 68, of Omaha, volunteering at the Kroc Center was a family affair. He brought his grandchildren to the center Wednesday and his son, Tony Thoms, 44, was in the Kroc Center kitchen Thursday.
“It gives you a real sense of helping others,'' such as the less fortunate, Doug Thoms said.
Tony Thoms said volunteering on the holiday demonstrated “the real meaning of Thanksgiving'' to his children.
Many of the drivers, who began receiving their assignments about 9:30 a.m., came with their own equipment to carry meals — plastic bins, laundry baskets and coolers on wheels — including the Rowlands.
And there were no tears from Sabrina Rowland after her and her husband's stop at Hahn's home. She said she was pleased with the brief visit and was delighted by Hahn's potholders and nutbread gifts.
Elsewhere, approximately 350 homeless single people and families enjoyed holiday dinners at the Siena/Francis House shelter, 1111 N. 17th St. Mayor Jean Stothert and her staff and family members were to have been on hand Thursday afternoon to help serve food.