By Joyce Coronel
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and for many in Tempe and W. Chandler, that means gathering with friends and loved ones to share a special meal and ponder blessings received. Celebrations may be smaller and more understated this year due to the pandemic, but it’s a celebration nonetheless.
Even if you’re homeless or just down on your luck.
For most of the last 12 years, John Farley, chef and kitchen manager at Paz de Cristo, has overseen the Thanksgiving festivities. Last year 16,000 men, women and children received a hot meal, food boxes, showers, clothing, job search assistance, Arizona identification and other crucial services at “Paz” as it’s been lovingly dubbed by the thousands who volunteer there each year.
Joe Tansill, executive director at Paz, said there’s a full complement of selfless folks who will spend Thanksgiving Day serving the hungry. “We’re very fortunate that we have volunteers who are willing to come and help us every day here at Paz de Cristo. We are actually full with very few gaps in volunteer opportunities through the end of the year,” Tansill said.
Chris Dunham is one of them. He grew up in Tempe and said he volunteers regularly and likes giving back to the community. “Our daughter was homeless for a while because she struggled with drug addiction,” Dunham said. “I came over here one night to help a friend out and now I’m a meal coordinator three times a month.”
Dunham supervises and assists other volunteers who dish out the hot meal and prepare bags of food for guests to take home. The bags are stuffed with peanut butter sandwiches—they’ve made over 200—as well as fruit, Cheetos and a sports drink.
Zach Zazick is in his first year of seminary studies for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and came with his fellow seminarians to volunteer in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. He’s no stranger to the charms of Paz and belongs to the third generation of Paz volunteers in his family.
“I’ve volunteered here a lot—we used to come here every Friday and like once a month. My mom volunteered when she was growing up. Her parents volunteered here all the time so my mom just started taking us with her.”
Guests begin lining up outside the gates around 4:30 p.m., waiting for the meal to be served at 5:30 p.m. A few have bikes; some have jackets and stand blinking in the sunlight, talking quietly with each other. The meal on this night will be enchiladas, rice and beans. Other nights it might be chicken drumsticks with mashed potatoes. “Chili dogs are a crowd-pleaser,” Farley says. On Christmas Eve, it’s steak.
“I like to do that one,” Farley says. “We’ll grill up almost 300 steaks and everybody gets one. And if they want another one, they come and get a second.”
On Thanksgiving, it’s turkey, of course. “It’s really special. To see people walk out so full and you know that they’re not hungry that night for sure. That’s one night that I know absolutely nobody’s walking away hungry at all,” Farley says.
Due to the pandemic, meals are served on a grab-and-go basis. Guests can walk up and receive their meal or drive up, roll down their windows and receive their dinner.
“We serve a hot, nutritious meal every day of the year to those who are in need. We’ve been here 32 years,” Tansill says. Paz offers a lot more than just meals—a full range of services are available, not the least of which is the mail service. For many, it’s a lifeline.
Tansill recently received a letter from the daughter of a guest who passed away. The family expressed appreciation for the care their father received and sent a donation comprised of the man’s entire life savings—$123.
“How beautiful is that? It’s one of the little things we do that make a huge difference in people’s lives where they can still be connected to their loved ones,” Tansill said.