By Samantha Pidde
Herald Staff Writer
The Victory Center Rescue Mission and community partners are getting ready to feed several hundred people during this year’s Great Thanksgiving Banquet.
“I thank God for the community because the community has always been very generous to the Victory Center,” Pastor Ray Gimenez, executive director with the Victory Center, said. “They always go above and beyond.”
For 24 years, the Victory Center and community volunteers have worked together to provide a Thanksgiving dinner to those in need. Today is the kickoff of the event’s food drive. For the fourth year in a row, the Clinton Herald and local businesses will participate in a grocery bag food drive for the event.
Beginning today, paper bags will be distributed and can be returned at any of the sponsoring businesses, as well as the Herald office and the Victory Center, 505 Ninth Ave. South. Herald Advertising Director Wayne Larkey said that the food drive has grown each year. More than 600 bags were returned last year filled with groceries, as well as gift cards and turkeys.
“The idea of having people sponsoring the event by grocery bags is critical,” Gimenez said.
Gimenez wanted to thank Larkey and the Clinton Herald, as well as all of the sponsors. He said the food drive allows them to cook the dinner and have food for giveaways for those in need.
Gimenez is excited to see a big change in the banquet — its location. In years past, the event has been held in the former Victor Center location on Sixth Avenue North. Last year the 65 volunteers and more than 400 guests were very crowded in that location. Gimenez added that the servers had little room to maneuver.
This year, Ashford University Center will be hosting the event. The dinner will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 21 in the Durgin Center gymnasium at Ashford. Gimenez is both excited and nervous about the change.
“Am I scared a little bit? Yeah, because I’ve been doing this for 24 years in that (old) facility,” Gimenez said.
However, Gimenez added that he wants to accommodate everyone and hopes having more room may compel more people to come. He hopes to get more volunteers than before. He would like to get 80 to 90 volunteers.
Ashford Executive Chef Jimmy Susi said this arrangement should be more convenient for everyone involved. Susi will be cooking the food for the dinner in the university cafeteria and it will be transported to the Durgin Center.
Susi is excited to be a part of the Great Thanksgiving Banquet. He feels that he has been blessed this year and thinks it was his turn to give back. Susi is beginning to get ready for the dinner.
“When you’re getting ready to feed 500 to 700 people, there’s a lot of preparation involved,” Susi said.
Gimenez is working to plan this Thanksgiving dinner for the community and said the banquet is a large part of the holiday season in Clinton.
“It’s a great banquet for the poor and for those who want to help the poor,” Gimenez said. “It’s a community affair. That’s what it is.”
The banquet will offer a meal, as well as entertainment and giveaways. Singer Oscar Peralez will once again provide entertainment at the dinner. The Victory Center will give out $800 in cash prizes, turkey, two grocery carts, gift certificates, approximately 20 food boxes and a boy’s and girl’s bicycle.
People wanting to become involved can donate food for the event. Gimenez said they need almost 175 pounds of potatoes, 60 pounds of frozen corn, four cases of No. 10 jams and other food items. Donations of pies and turkeys are also welcome.
Grocery bags are in today’s Clinton Herald. Extra bags can be picked up at Walmart, 2715 S. 25th St. Bags of food can be taken to Walmart, Mercy Medical Center, Air Control, Turner Appliance, DHCU, Don's Jewelry, Banner Home Furnishings, Brown’s Shoe Fit, Gerdes Northend Auto, the Clinton Herald and the Victory Center.