Clementina Santillanes enjoys a warm Thanksgiving dinner with her daughter in 2019 at McDonald’s at NM 528 and Peggy Road. Santillanes said she’s thankful for St. Felix Pantry’s service to the community. The pantry; the Garza family, who own the McDonald’s; the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce; and a number of volunteers partnered to offer a free dinner to local residents for the 27th year in 2019. (Photo by Anthony Jackson)

The annual community Thanksgiving meal at McDonald’s is going forward, but in a different way this year.

St. Felix Pantry and the Garza family McDonald’s are again partnering to serve the free meal. However, it will be drive-thru only; people must get free tickets; and the food will be regular McDonald’s fare instead of traditional Thanksgiving dishes.

Meal service is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, at the McDonald’s on NM 528, south of Meadowlark Lane.

St. Felix Vice President of Development Rachael Miletkov said the menu would be McDonald’s meals because last year a problem arose with food not being prepared in certified kitchens, although volunteers cooked it with care.

“The additional COVID-safe practice is that it’s drive-thru only,” she said.

Miletkov said organizers are heart-broken they and attendees can’t sit down and eat together.

“But it’s better than nothing,” she continued.

Diners will need to wear masks at the pickup window and stay in their cars. Dignitaries have been invited, but they’ll stand outside and wave at motorists with St. Felix staff members, Miletkov said.

Only McDonald’s employees will be allowed in the building.

“We are requiring people to come to St. Felix Pantry to get a ticket,” she said.

To reduce liability, prospective attendees must review a statement that servers will take every precaution, but there’s a risk of contracting COVID-19 if people leave home and interact with others. They’ll learn about the safety practices and have a chance to ask questions.

People can stop by for tickets from 9 a.m. to noon Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 21. Miletkov said if people can’t come by, they can call the pantry at 891-8075 and staff members will do their best to provide remote viewing of the statement.

She said St. Felix has 1,500 tickets available even though the Thanksgiving meal usually serves 1,200 people.

“We want to make sure everyone who’s hungry and needs someplace to go on Thanksgiving has that option,” she said.

Miletkov didn’t expect long waiting times Thanksgiving Day, because McDonald’s workers have assured her they handle similar service daily.

“We’re going to be able to serve fairly quickly,” she said.

St. Felix Pantry is at 4020 Barbara Loop. The McDonald’s sponsoring the free meal is at 1390 NM 528.