By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Festive Holiday Meal Draws Crowd To Center
Diners by the dozens turned out at the Escalon Community Center on Thursday, and more than a hundred dinners went out the door to be home delivered or picked up by residents, sharing in the Thanksgiving holiday.

Escalon's annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner, headed up by a core group of volunteers and with the cooking done - though for the last time this year - by local resident Tommy Joyce, proved to be another satisfying success on Nov. 25.

"We've become accustomed to do this," said Escalon resident Dave Den Ouden, attending the meal with brother Casey and sharing a table with friends. "It's very convenient for us."

And while the meal is offered to all, free of charge, many people - Den Ouden included - choose to make a donation to the Escalon Ministerial Association, which underwrites the effort.

"It works for us," Den Ouden said, smiling, admitting that the turkey is his favorite part of the meal.

Carmen and Richard Ingols live near Delhi but come every year, picking up Carmen's mom, Maxine Burse, from her home in Escalon's Paddack Manor to head over to the holiday meal.

"This is our third year," Carmen said. "It's delicious food and we enjoy spending time with my mom. We were very impressed the first year and just kept coming back."

Maxine, an Escalon resident for 30 years, said she also has attended both the senior exercise class and senior meals at the Community Center over the years, and the Thanksgiving dinner is an added treat.

"Good company and good food," she said.

For Bob and Dorothy Girling, it was their first trip to the community meal.

"The family has scattered," Bob noted. "It's the first year she didn't cook."

With plates of steaming traditional Thanksgiving food placed in front of them by volunteer Teresa Vosper, both Girlings said they thoroughly enjoyed the meal and the chance to relax, eat ... and not have to clean up afterward.

The Aguilar family, meanwhile, was a repeat visitor, noting the meal was so good last year they made it a point to come back.

"Everything is good," agreed dad Emilio, Sr. as he bit into his pumpkin pie to top off the meal.

Thirteen-year-old Emilio Jr., a student at El Portal, listed "mashed potatoes" as his favorite.

Tables were set with placemats decorated by local elementary school classes, an assembly line was set up to box up the home delivered meals and other people came in to 'take out' food to have the meal at home. Volunteers took food orders, serving up the salad course first, then carried plates full of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce and more to the waiting diners.

Among those helping out on the floor were 10-year-old Nathan Sandoval, a member of Escalon Troop 415 and Deseree Jones, 14, who was attending with her grandmother.

"This is my first time volunteering," said young Sandoval, adding that being of service is right in line with the Boy Scout oath. "I like to help other people."

Jones, who lives in Ripon, said she and her grandma Wilma Jones were there to assist and enjoy the holiday.

"I did the same thing two years ago in Modesto," she explained. "I like seeing the smiles on people's faces when you give them the food."

In the kitchen, a crew was dishing up the food while another group was elbow deep in suds, washing up the platters and cooking pots.

They included dad Russ and sons Daniel and Nathan Van Cleave of Oakdale, who went to volunteer first at the Oakdale event but found no need there, so they moved on to assist in Escalon.

"The food was great," said Christopher Larson of Escalon. "As usual, they did a fantastic job."

Larson said he likes to cook, so he could make the holiday meal at home, but he prefers the camaraderie at the community event.

"And I don't make pie," he said, chuckling.

DeeAnna Jackson, coordinating the home delivered meals, said well over 100 were being delivered, with more being picked up by residents themselves to take home.

The number going out - 119 and still counting midway through the event - was above the 104 of last year and topped the previously recorded high of 105 in 2007.

"I enjoy it," said longtime volunteer Marge Price of what keeps her coming back. "You see people you don't see all the time and it's a community project. Not very small towns have this, but Escalon does and it's a big part of the community."