SOUTHWEST FLORIDA - By now, kitchens are beginning to fill with the sweet scent of pumpkin pie. But for those who can't afford to fill a Thanksgiving table, there are plenty of warm plates waiting for them.
In just a few hours, volunteers at the Salvation Army of Lee and Hendry Counties will be firing up the ovens, getting hundreds of turkeys and all the Thanksgiving fixings ready. Places like the Salvation Army and St. Matthew's House in Naples serve free meals every single day, but on Thanksgiving, they do more than just fill an empty stomach.
"I'm gonna be there. I'm gonna be the first one there," James Herron said.
Herron, who stops by the Salvation Army for daily meals has been looking forward to Thanksgiving for weeks. "That turkey, I'm gonna eat me a bunch of that," Herron said.
It's a little taste of home in the midst of tough times. Just last week, the Salvation Army announced it was running short on supplies for this year's Thanksgiving dinner. In stepped the community.
"We were getting donations up until this afternoon," Merrilu Bennett of the Salvation Army said. "Turkeys, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes."
People donated enough to feed at least 500 in Lee County, and 700 in LaBelle.
Down in Naples, volunteers at St. Matthew's House have been hard at work all week, peeling 390 pounds of potatoes, stirring 300 pounds of stuffing, preparing 200 pounds of cranberry sauce, and 25 gallons of gravy.
"We're talking about cooking about 110 turkeys, and serving probably 800-1000 meals tomorrow in just 4 hours," Lisa Ellison of St. Matthew's House said. "This past year was a 50% increase in need, just in food distribution and support to the community, so we are expecting many more this year than we had last year."
Gov. Rick Scott also plans to spend part of his Thanksgiving serving dinner at St. Matthew's House. For those who come to these places for a warm meal, is not just about the turkey or even the pumpkin pie.
"Many of these people are going to go and sleep on the streets tonight, and then tomorrow, that's what they have to look forward to," Bennett said. "And it seems like so little, but to them, it means the world."
"It makes me feel like I'm at home," Herron said. "They feed you good, they treat you good, you can't find a better place."
The meal Thursday at St. Matthew's House begins at noon and goes until 4:00 p.m. Thanksgiving at Salvation Army runs from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Everyone is welcome.