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Giving thanks in a new way

St. Felix Pantry Vice President of Development Rachael Miletkov hands menus to a guest at the free drive-thru community Thanksgiving meal at the Garza McDonald’s on Thursday. Argen Duncan photo.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — For Thanksgiving, 1,242 people drove through McDonald’s for the 28th annual community meal, which had a different flavor this year, on Thursday.

St. Felix Pantry and the Garza family McDonald’s in Rio Rancho have partnered to provide free Thanksgiving meals to anyone who needs or wants one every year. This Thanksgiving, the meal was drive-thru only for COVID safety and served traditional McDonald’s fare to meet requirements that food be cooked in a certified kitchen.

“We’re just happy we could provide some semblance of comfort at a time when everyone is hurting,” said McDonald’s franchisee Clemy Garza.

Meal service was set to start at 10 a.m., but she said cars were lined up when she arrived at 8:30. Once her crew had food ready, they started serving at 9:30, with two lines of cars trailing off the property.

Local leaders came to wave at motorists, and McDonald’s employees brought food outside to anyone arriving without a vehicle.

“Our goal was to not turn anyone away,” said Garza, who runs the restaurant with her father, Julian Garza.

Drivers line up at the drive-thru to wait for their McDonald’s meals for Thanksgiving. Argen Duncan photo.

She said the event had a feeling of joy, with diners thanking the staff and volunteers.

Pantry board member Alex Rich and her husband volunteered at the meal.

“Obviously Thanksgiving is different this year, and I’ve been very blessed in my personal life,” she said.

With their family not gathering, the couple decided giving back was a good way to celebrate.

St. Felix Pantry Vice President of Development Rachael Miletkov said pantry representatives are grateful for the partnership with McDonald’s, without which they couldn’t offer a hot meal.

Along with St. Felix staff members, 15 volunteers greeted people and directed traffic, and 21 McDonald’s employees cooked and served food.

“God really provided good weather for us and excellent, excellent staff here. They really need to be commended for all the work they did,” said pantry President and CEO Sister Angela Parkins, adding that she was also grateful to the volunteers.

From left, St. Felix Pantry Vice President of Development Rachael Miletkov, long-time volunteer Nancy Mendez, President and CEO Sister Angela Parkins, Sister Juanita Szymanski and McDonald’s owners and father-daughter team Clemy and Julian Garza celebrate Thanksgiving by offering free meals at the restaurant. Argen Duncan photo.