Servers prepare plates for waiters as part of the Holte Holiday Dinners Thanksgiving meal at Sacred Heart School. Photos by Sean Roney.

An estimated 300 meals were served during the Thanksgiving meal hosted by Holte Holiday Dinners at the Sacred Heart School gymnasium in Hollister on Nov. 26. The meals were served to those in need, with delivery provided to individuals who weren’t able to make it.

“We open to the doors to everybody,” said event co-chair Eduardo Servin. “Every year, we do this for Thanksgiving and Christmas in order to keep the community happy and put smiles on their faces. That’s what we care about.”

“When you are homeless and on the street, it’s hard to do a Thanksgiving dinner,” said John Wolgamott, who explained that he’s been homeless in Hollister for 16 years. He described what a homeless Thanksgiving is like without a community event like the Holte dinner: “I roasted a turkey one year on a barbecue pit and it turned out fantastic. Everybody in the camps around wanted to come and eat at our camp. We had to tell them no, because I bought a very small bird and only had enough for the six of us in our camp.”

Instead, the volunteers with the Holte dinner were able to provide a warm place to eat a bounty of offerings, with rows of tables and seats for all who showed up.

“This year for Thanksgiving I believe we had 23 turkeys, 200 pounds of mashed potatoes, 40 boxes of stuffing, and two cases of corn,” said Peter Cefalu, cook and board vice president. 

But preparing a meal for hundreds took considerable effort. Event co-chair Ruben Lopez said, “We started the operation quite a while ago, buying all the supplies and products. But last night, the night before, is when a lot of volunteers show up to wash the turkeys, wash the pots and pans, and set up the tables. It’s a lot of stuff to be done. If it wasn’t for all these volunteers, we couldn’t make it.”

When asked why he volunteered, San Jose resident Angel Zelaya said, “A lot of people don’t have the luxury of the average lifestyle. It’s in me to give back to the community.”
“We have a lot of volunteers, some from as far away as San Diego,” said Servin. “People come from different places to help us here, and we’re all so happy and pleased to do this for our community.”

Monica Juarez, a volunteer from San Diego, described her involvement. “I came last year on vacation and I met this group of people helping others at Christmas. Then this time I came for Thanksgiving.” Regarding the volunteer experience, she said, “It feels great. You get to see all the people coming through, and get to see the brightness in their eyes. It’s beautiful. And you get to meet other people with the same goal.”

“It’s a fellowship,” said Wolgamott, who described himself as an old Marine, said of the friendly atmosphere of the dinner. “It reminds me of my time in the service, where if you got duty for the holiday, there’s always food on the mess deck.”

This year, the Thanksgiving meal took about 100 volunteers in total. The doors at the gym opened at 11 a.m., but volunteers were worked in preparation as early as 5:30 a.m., when Kirk Tognazzini unlocked the doors for them to enter.

“We start at 6 a.m. and we barely get it ready by 11,” said Cefalu. “It’s a long day.” He described the prior evening’s work by saying, “A lot of volunteers came yesterday and it was mostly setting up all the tables, washing everything and getting it ready.”

Those who showed up for the meal were served by waiters who brought food directly to their tables. Waiters were supplied by a lineup of servers with trays of food at the ready. 

“It’s nice working with all the people,” said Gil Howard, of Patterson, who worked as a server during his sixth year of volunteering for the Holte dinners. “I got started at it a few years ago. I started off for a couple years driving around delivering meals (and spent) a couple years as a waiter. This is the first year I’ve been on the serving line.”

Desserts were served, with plenty of pumpkin pie to go around. And the positivity didn’t end with the food, as Helen McKinney was ready at the door to hand out hand out gifts for children and flowers for parents.
For those that couldn’t make it, a team of volunteers prepared and delivered meals. 

Servin said of the recipients, “They have nowhere to go, because they’re in the beds or with walkers or wheelchairs. There’s no way to come and get them. So we have the takeout.”

“We bring them individually to their homes or wherever they are located,” said delivery volunteer Manny Servin, who noted there were about 55 such meals to be delivered.

The origins of the Holte Holiday Dinner were in the 1980s, when retired teacher Marley Holte and his then-wife started feeding those in need for the holidays. Holte passed away in 2006, but the meals continued, with volunteers who sought non-profit status for the Holte Holiday Dinners organization.

“Now we continue with the tradition to keep feeding the community,” said Servin. “This is something that comes from your heart. Whatever you heart says, you just do it, and don’t expect anything back.”

Wolgamott said, “My girlfriend and I have come for 16 years ourselves. We originally heard Marley Holte was doing something for the homeless so we went over to talk to him about helping. We found out he was in charge of doing the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. So ever since then, we’ve been coming to them and do what we can to volunteer.”

Cefalu noted that any leftovers get sent to migrant camps or juvenile hall. “Nothing goes to waste. Someone will benefit from it,” he said.

The board and volunteers are preparing for the Christmas dinner, where 500 meals are expected to be prepared. For more information, Servin can be contacted at (831) 623-4117.

Sean is a writer and photographer from California’s Central Coast. He began reporting for BenitoLink in 2015. Sean received his BA in communication from CSU Monterey Bay and he has covered news stories...