Clementina Santillanes enjoys a warm Thanksgiving dinner with her daughter Thursday 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 this year. (Photo by Anthony Jackson)

The sun hadn’t risen yet and many people were still in bed when St. Felix Pantry volunteers met at 6:30 a.m. to prepare dinners for the community on Thanksgiving Day.

The dinner, held at the Garza-owned McDonald’s on NM 528, entered its 27th year. Food for about 800 people was prepared as early as two weeks in advance, said Mauro Torres-Ginez, the pantry manager.

Last year, over 1,000 meals were served, according to a press release from the local food pantry.

Dozens of people with their families, significant others, friends or by themselves were in line and ready to eat by 10:30 a.m.

Christiana Santillanes and her daughter were among the first in line.

Within the first 20 minutes, they were enjoying a warm meal of turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy and other Thanksgiving essentials. Santillanes has attended a few times before.

“I’m thankful that they do it because there are some of us who can’t afford to make homemade meals,” she said.

Serving the dinner was a mix of volunteers from the pantry and local dignitaries, including Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull, Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block, Rio Rancho Fire Chief Paul Bearce, Rio Rancho Police Chief Stewart Steele and others.

As the line snaked through the restaurant, Sister Mary Angela Parkins, the CEO and president of the pantry, stopped to greet visitors as she checked on volunteers at each station. Parkins said this is the best way to spend Thanksgiving.

“It warms my heart having McDonald’s shut down to work with the needy, the lonely, the poor, to come and eat a meal,” Parkins said. “It warms my heart because they gave up their business to offer their building to the community.”