By Julia Deng
MIDLAND - Thousands in the Permian Basin were treated to warm meals Friday evening at the 12th annual Feast of Sharing dinner in Midland, hosted by H-E-B.
"We fed probably 7,500 to 8,000 people today,” Bob Murphy, an H-E-B representative who helped organize the free event, said.
He said it “felt incredible” to be able to provide holiday cheer and Thanksgiving-style dinners to so many attendees. Still, they represent only a fraction of those struggling with hunger and poverty in Texas.
According to a study released Thursday by non-profit organization Feeding Texas, 3.5 million people statewide receive charitable food an average of seven times each year.
Murphy emphasized the importance of making Feast of Sharing feel like a community gathering – not a charity giveaway or soup kitchen.
"This is not a food line where people go through and serve themselves,” Murphy said. "This is a sit-down dinner so everybody who comes in, they're going to be able to sit down at these tables and be waited on."
Volunteers cooked and served a total of 300 pounds of sliced turkey, 2,500 pounds of cornbread dressing, 750 pumpkin pies, 380 gallons of mashed potatoes, 140 gallons of turkey gravy and 95 gallons of cranberry sauce.
In addition to food, the event provided free access to social services and health care advice.
“This is so much more than just a dinner for us,” Delma Balerio, an Odessa resident who brought her young daughter to Feast of Sharing, said. "Not only are we gonna have a delicious meal, I know there are several vendors promoting their community services, like Big Brothers and Big Sisters."
Other organizations and food banks have also paired free meals with services including medical care and literacy programs.
Data collected by Feeding Texas between October 2012 and August 2013 reveals more than 70 percent of families surveyed in Texas had to choose between paying for food and medical care.
H-E-B addressed that by partnering with United Way, a national system of volunteers, contributors and local charities.
“We aren't just feeding people today,” Murphy said. “United Way brings all the social service agencies here today and there are people [here] who would be able to offer social services. The health department is also here to provide free services and advice.”
He described the event as a combined effort of “the private sector, the county and the city.”
H-E-B will host another Feast of Sharing dinner on December fifth at the Ector County Coliseum.
The free event is scheduled to run from 4 to 8 p.m. and is open to the public.