More than 600 people in need gathered for a free Thanksgiving dinner at a park in Fort Myers. The event was put on for the 33rd year in a row by the Nations Association, with help from All Faiths Unitarian Church. People expressed thanks to the founder of Nations, the Reverend Israel Suarez.
"He is a real inspiration, he does so much for so many people," said Sarah Perez, one of the reverend's grand-daughters. "He does it from his heart, not for the cameras or attention, and he does it every day of the year, he helps people."
"I want to thank him for this meal. Without this, I would be starving and my friend here would be starving. He is a good man," said Wayne Johnson of Rev. Suarez.
The 66-year old started serving a Thanksgiving community meal to those in need in 1978. He says about 75 people turned out that first year.
"I am so happy to see the people eating a meal and smiling, laughing," said Rev. Suarez. "I know the economy is terrible, these people have lost jobs and lost homes. It makes me very emotional to know that they are thanking me. That is very nice."
"I want to thank Isreal Suarez for all he does. He helps the people, especially in the Hispanic community," said Carlos Velasquez.
The reverend has suffered 2 heart attacks, and doctors have told him to slow down or even retire from running the Nations Association. That is not likely to happen. "I will die, doing this. I will die doing it, there is no doubt, simply put. They will find me dead, doing this," Suarez says with a chuckle. "That is no problem, I want it that way, I want to help people. That is what I do."
"Truly a man of God, and man who really does help his community, and leaves his mark," said Tory Schafer of Suarez. She was a volunteer who helped with the serving of the meal on Thursday. "He is fabulous."