State Rep. Joshua Hernandez speaks with the driver of a car pulling up to McDonald’s on NM 528 for a free meal as, back from left, Sandoval County Commissioner Dave Heil, Rio Rancho first lady Carrie Hull, Rio Rancho Police Capt. Ken Willey and Mayor Gregg Hull chat on Thanksgiving Day. The Garza family McDonald’s and St. Felix Pantry partnered to offer a free meal on Thanksgiving. Argen Marie Duncan

Despite the ongoing pandemic, St. Felix Pantry and the Garza family McDonald’s kept their tradition of offering free meals on Thanksgiving Day going strong after 3½ decades.
St. Felix Vice President of Development Rachael Miletkov said organizers served a little more than 1,000 people Thursday. Almost a dozen volunteers plus a handful of community officials and their relatives greeted and directed motorists at the drive-thru event.
For the past two years, COVID-19 has led to the annual meal being done via the drive-thru at the McDonald’s on NM 528 in Rio Rancho, and state regulations have dictated that the food be a limited selection of McDonald’s fare cooked in the restaurant’s commercial kitchen, rather than traditional Thanksgiving dishes prepared in volunteers’ homes.
Meal service didn’t start until 10 a.m., but McDonald’s co-owner Clemy Garza said cars started lining up at 7:15.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
More than 35 McDonald’s employees worked Thursday.
“For many, it’s a Thanksgiving Day tradition,” Garza said. “They volunteer to work today and plan their family gatherings around this event.”
She said this year is the 35th or 36th the Garza family and the pantry have offered free meals on Thanksgiving.
“Not doing it was just not an option last year, because the community counts on it,” Garza said. “And this year was the same thing. We’ll find a way.”
Miletkov said she and other organizers hoped 2022 would bring less virus risk so the Thanksgiving meal could happen as a sit-down gathering.
“But we just have to take it one day at a time,” she said.