From outside it sounded like the normal clatter and chatter in the Parlier Junior High School cafeteria, but inside it was more like a family reunion for community members enjoying the 13th annual Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by the Parlier Parent Resource Center.
Saturday's meal of turkey, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls and pumpkin pie drew about 800 people.
Visitors were entertained with live music, and students from Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School performed traditional Mexican folk dances.
Luis Ramos, a collaboration consultant with the resource center, has worked at the event all 13 years and said the result is always the same: people enjoying a nice meal together.
"We had enough food for seconds and told people they could take food home," Ramos said. "We gave out whole pies. They were happy."
Through the years Ramos has helped with the dinner, starting as a volunteer and now on the planning committee, he said the reactions from people have been the reward.
"They're grateful," he said. "They come up and thank us for something we don't have to do. But we want to do it."
Ramos said the event is made possible each year by donations from the school district and resource center.
The food was handed out by student volunteers from the Leo Club, associated with the Lions Club. Club president Jada Vasquez said it was her third year helping at the event and she enjoys the sense of community it creates.
"It brings the community together like one big family," she said, just as a small boy nearby ran laughing after some friends.
In fact, for some people the food might have been secondary to the opportunity to gather together, attendee Michael Ramirez said. He said some people are in need of food and others are needy for family.
"A lot of people have family in Mexico they don't get to see," Ramirez said. "It's a family here. It's a good way to meet people, because a lot of times you never see your neighbor."
For a community mostly of farmworkers, said Enrique Maldonado, the Parlier Unified School District's board president, the annual dinner provides an important break from tough times.
"People need a chance like this to have a good time," he said.
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