Harlingen Methodist Church Thanksgiving attracts many eager for hot food, friendship

Visitors at First United Methodist Church of Harlingen are served a traditional meal at the church’s annual Thanksgiving Meal Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, from noon to 2 p.m. (Travis Whitehead/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — They came from all directions, men with bitter faces and eyes glittering, women in jerseys, lavender caps and a step with raw combinations of fatigue and hunger anticipating rare satisfaction.

They moved with harsh tiredness out of the November day into the welcoming warmth of the First United Methodist Church of Harlingen. The church was serving its annual Thanksgiving Meal Thursday from noon to 2 p.m.

Many accepted the invitation.

“I like it here,” said Patrick Cline, 48, who quietly digested his meal of turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.

It was a fine meal, he said, and he had two carryout boxes ready to leave with him, one for a neighbor who has no place to go.

“I come here every year,” he said. “They have excellent service, excellent food, good people, and it’s a place to go … it’s a help to the needy, the people who don’t have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving.”

People moved smoothly past the serving line, filling their plates with copious amounts of Thanksgiving wonders served by pleasant volunteers who spoke kindly to their patrons.

Tables were vibrant with color and a warm intimacy of people with evident appreciation and empty plates with the castoff crust of expended pumpkin pie.

Fred Perez, associate pastor at FUMC, appreciated the turnout, which appeared much better than last year’s when many were still leery of the pandemic and lingering restrictions.

“We had a wonderful turnout,” Perez said. “My concern was that if we were going to have folks come out.”

He looked at the serving line, which had considerably diminished in a short period of time.

“As you can see, we have about two trays of food left, praise God,” he said.

A broad range of people had descended on the church for a meal.

A teenage boy with tousled hair and hand-me-down clothes over his tired frame consumed great mouthfuls of food.

A man in a worn jacket and thick white beard falling raggedly over his shirt stared with a far-off stare, perhaps into his loneliness and loss or perhaps into bright memories of Thanksgivings past.

Another teenage boy scrolled through pages on his phone in an apparent effort at distraction from boredom or a dark holiday sorrow.

Kids ate eagerly and with joy in their eyes.

“Everything today is good!” said 6-year-old Mia Garcia.

Her father and mother agreed.

“It’s a good Thanksgiving meal, really good,” said her father Frank Camacho.

“If it weren’t for this place, we probably would be at home watching TV,” he added.

Many presented themselves as regulars at FUMC’s Thanksgiving Meal.

“I really enjoy it, I come here every year,” said David Guajardo, 48, whose two daughters aged 8 and 9 savored quick bites of pumpkin pie.

“This year I did something different,” Guajardo said. “I donated turkeys. I donated mashed potatoes. I passed out flyers. I did it out of appreciation.”