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Thousands show up for the Salvation Army’s annual Christmas feast

Volunteers Vanessa Sterba, 22, and her cousin, Michael Tang, 12, serve meals at the annual Salvation Army Community Christmas Dinner at the Tucson Convention Center Exhibition Hall on Christmas Day.

Volunteers Vanessa Sterba, 22, and her cousin, Michael Tang, 12, serve meals at the annual Salvation Army Community Christmas Dinner at the Tucson Convention Center Exhibition Hall on Christmas Day.

For some Tucson families, such as the Morenos, Herbers and Gonzaleses, the Salvation Army’s annual Christmas dinner Thursday was an extended-family event.

But for others, such as Harry Ingmire, 58, a Vietnam vet drafted a week after he turned 18, it was a holiday ritual he attended alone.

More than 2,000 diners of all ages – some homeless, came from around the city to enjoy the hot turkey dinner sponsored each year by the faith-based nonprofit.

Tamara McElwee, the nonprofit’s spokeswoman, said dozens of volunteers sign up year after year to make the event the success that it is.

Ed Hoffman, 94, said this is his seventh year as a volunteer.

He and his Sun City Vistoso friends Janet Hayes and Ted Reynolds also volunteer annually.

They serve food, pour punch and wish good cheer to the families, the disabled and the homeless who line up by 10:30 a.m. for the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Christmas feast.

Hoffman says he volunteers because it’s a “worthwhile” event and he enjoys seeing the young children dressed up for the holiday each year.

Volunteer balloon-maker William J. Jayme donated balloons in the shape of a heart to diners as they entered the Tucson Convention Center Exhibition Hall, which was transformed into a banquet hall.

He gave purple balloons to anyone wearing military veteran’s medals, caps or fatigues.

“Here’s a purple heart for your service,” he told each of them.

Ingmire, who said he saw fellow soldiers get cut down in Vietnam and was held for six months as a prisoner of war, lives in an apartment on the monthly Supplemental Security Insurance payments he receives from the federal government for a mental disability.

Michael Jones, 31, said he attended the Christmas dinner for the first time.

He made sure he left with one of the artificial red carnations distributed throughout the dinner by volunteers.

Scott Duerstock, 43, and his wife Yun Gee Pak, who are educators, volunteered with their four sons.

They helped serve and check in guests, asking them to leave their backpacks, shopping carts and other possessions for safekeeping outside the dining area.

Francisco Moreno, 18 months, sat on a folded blanket so he could reach the table and feed himself from a plate of turkey and mashed potatoes.

His mother, Isabel Herber, 20, dined with her husband, Danny Gonzales, who fed her son Miguel Herber, 3 months old, from a bottle.

They were joined by grandmother Angela Herber, 43, and Hector Sotelo, a family friend.

Also at their table were Veronica Bracamonte, 26, with her fiance, Donald McIntyre, 32, and their daughter, Gloria McIntyre, 13 months old.

Isabel Herber said she found out about the dinner when she picked up a flier at a Department of Economic Security office.

Hundreds enjoy the annual Salvation Army Community Christmas Dinner at the Tucson Convention Center Exhibition Hall on Thursday.

Hundreds enjoy the annual Salvation Army Community Christmas Dinner at the Tucson Convention Center Exhibition Hall on Thursday.

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