Thanksgiving is a time to give back in Sonoma County

More than 500 volunteers will come together on Wednesday to put on the Redwood Gospel Mission’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanks to them, more than 5,000 poor and homeless people in Sonoma County will get to celebrate the holiday with a warm meal, friends and family, in a decorated hall at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

When guests walk in, they’ll be greeted by a host and seated at one of 40 tables bedecked in burgundy and gold tablecloths and floral arrangements in vases. There will be music, and a server will ask them what they’d like to drink, and bring them a plate of turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, salad and all the fixings.

The event – and many others like it during this season of gratitude – wouldn’t happen without the volunteers who find opportunities to make the holidays a little brighter for everyone.

“There’s really a great desire for people in our community to do something really meaningful at Thanksgiving,” said Jeff Gilman, executive director of the Redwood Gospel Mission. “It’s so aptly named Thanksgiving because that’s everybody’s experience. We experience that from the people that are served that day (and) from the people that are serving them. There’s an incredible amount of gratitude.”

In Sonoma County, there is no shortage of volunteer opportunities at Thanksgiving – and it’s not too late to help out at the Redwood Gospel Mission or at any number of other worthy causes.

Individuals can make a tremendous impact. At Redwood Gospel Mission, for example, they’ve helped the mission expand its Thanksgiving celebration from one that served 200 guests at its first event in 1994 to one that will feed 5,000 this week.

The organization has partnered with St. Joseph Health and Sutter Health to provide free medical screenings for guests. This year, for the first time, guests also will have the option of getting manicures, facials and foot baths – thanks to a Santa Rosa esthetician who donated her services and trained a support staff.

The dinner takes weeks to prepare. People start cooking the turkeys in October, de-boning them and freezing them. And then there are the uncooked turkeys that will head home with more than 1,100 needy families on Wednesday for them to cook and enjoy on the holiday. In all, there are more than 1,500 turkeys in the mission’s walk-in freezer right now, Gilman said.

The whole event would cost upward of $100,000 if it wasn’t for Sonoma County’s generosity, Gilman said. Because of that, the Redwood Gospel Mission only shells out about $20,000.

“It’s an immediate gratification,” said Alice Lowe, who coordinates the event every year. “It feels good.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or On Twitter @SeaWarren.

Want to help?

Many organizations in Sonoma County need your help this season. Connect with them here:

– Redwood Gospel Mission: or 707-578-1830

– St. Vincent de Paul Society: or 707-584-1579

– Friends in Sonoma Helping: or 707-996-0111

– Redwood Empire Food Bank: or 707-523-7900

– Friends in Service Here: or 707-527-5151

– Catholic Charities: or 707-528-8712

– Committee on the Shelterless: or 707-765-6530

– Food for Thought: or 707-887-1647

– Council on Aging: or 707-525-0143

– Petaluma People Services Center: or 707-765-8488

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