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SALT LAKE CITY — Tonya Larsen wasn’t able to travel to see relatives this Thanksgiving, but she celebrated the holiday with found family at a Thanksgiving dinner Monday at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.
Volunteers handed out plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce to about 2,000 Utahns experiencing homelessness or food insecurity during the annual Season of Service Thanksgiving event sponsored by The Larry H. Miller Company and Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation.
The 25-year-old tradition provides Utah residents with food as well as a variety of services such as pet sitting, menstrual hygiene kits, health care and even grooming.
For Larsen, the event was a gathering like the countless others that will take place in Utah on Thursday, complete with boisterous gatherings of old friends and family.
“My family is the little I have on the street,” Larsen said, adding that this year she is thankful for her family: those related by blood and those not. “I can’t be greedy and say just one side because it’s all of them.”
Maya Meyer said she was moved to see the solidarity in the room and became emotional as she spoke about finding joy amid life’s difficulties.
“There was a lot of love here in the building,” she said. “It’s good to see how much it gives back to the community because … you don’t get to hear a lot about good things in the news and things like that.”
“I’m not in the best situation myself, but I’m not in the worst, so I’m really grateful for that,” Meyer continued. “I’ve got a roof over my head … and our car barely works, but we’re here, you know, and so I’m just thankful to be alive.”
As children, that inner child that is inside them and that is so alive is what seeks joy, inspiration and magic in the mundane and the everyday. They are closer to God than anything you know.
– Maya Meyer
Meyer was there with her own family: her son, Jesse James, 5, and his little sister, Amara. After realizing that Jesse wanted a bottle of chocolate milk instead of the orange juice he was given, a man at an adjacent table quickly stepped in to offer a swap.
The annual Thanksgiving event has grown organically over the years to include dozens of essential guest services, according to Don Sterling, executive director of the Miller Family Office.
“They’re excited about the food, but they’re also excited about the things they can do to help improve their lives,” he said. “(We’re) really trying to provide a full range of options where they can walk away knowing, ‘Oh, I feel good about having great food, but maybe there are some things that can help me in the long run in my life.””
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson volunteered in line serving food and said the face-to-face service opportunities are an important reminder of shared humanity.
“Every time I interact with people who have housing issues, you just learn that people are people,” she said. “I’m very grateful for the gifts I have in my life and I think this is a great time of year to show gratitude.”
Lance Lamberton said he had fallen on hard times after reaching the “peak” of his sales career and said he now understands how vulnerable many people are.
“I made a lot of money and then our family situation changed,” he said. “but the thing I’ve learned is that I can be happy no matter what level I’m at in life. We no longer measure things in dollars and cents.”
Lamberton was celebrating his first Thanksgiving since marrying Tyra Vance just a few months ago. The newly blended family was joined by Lamberton’s son, Austin, and Vance’s grandson, Kingston.
“It’s more about that kind of thing,” Lamberton said.
Even in her worst moments, Meyer said she can look to her children for inspiration to stay positive.
“As children, that inner child that’s inside them and that’s so alive is the one that looks for joy and inspiration and magic in the mundane and the everyday,” she said. “They are nearer to God than anything you know.”