SANTA CRUZ -- Geoffrey Rathert was one of the first to notice the "Thankfulness Tree" at the Thanksgiving event Thursday at the Homeless Services Center in Santa Cruz.
He said he was thankful his mom is alive and that the Rolling Stones are back on tour, so that's what he wrote on a green piece of paper shaped like a leaf, then attached it to the tree.
The idea came from Jessica Abramson of the Homeless Services Center staff and it was executed by Jen Sawyer and a group of college students attending Santa Cruz Bible Church. The students called to say they wanted to play a part in creating a festive Thanksgiving Day for homeless people in the community.
Ann Dizikes came with her friend Sonia Blacker to help.
"Our family lives far away and I read in the Sentinel they were short of volunteers," Dizikes said.
Joining them was Margie Nowland.
"My husband lost his job three months ago," she explained.
The family was planning to partake in the Thanksgiving meal when their 19-year-old son James said, "Let's go help."
So all three pitched in, joining nearly 100 other volunteers.
The Homeless Services Center this year put on a noontime Thanksgiving meal for 350 people after the Friends of Thanksgiving were unable to organize a dinner at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, a bigger venue that served 1,200 people last year.
"So many wonderful volunteers showed up," said Megan Carlson, volunteer coordinator for
The weather cooperated as well, with the sun shining on the courtyard where tables were set up for a chess tournament.
"Want to bet a dollar on a game?" asked one man, waiting for the meal to be served.
"We seat 65 at a time," said Carlson, who had arranged for outside activities staffed by volunteers "to make it fun and festive."
The meal was orchestrated by Teresa Scott, who put in long hours to prepare 20 turkeys to serve.
"I have so much admiration for her," Carlson said.
"We never cooked for Thanksgiving before," said Scott. "I'm happy to do it."
Dozens of people got foot screenings, new shoes and socks courtesy of Soles4Souls and "Our Hearts to Your Soles," an annual event started by Dr. Stephen Conti to relieve foot problems experienced by people who are homeless.
The shoe giveaway has taken place in Santa Cruz before, but this is the first time it took place on Thanksgiving.
Dr. Nicholas Abidi of Northern California Orthopedic Specialists again volunteered to examine feet and tapped his family, wife Beth, daughter Meghan and son Collin, to help.
Meghan in turn recruited classmates from Pacific Collegiate School to sort 100 pairs of men's shoes and 50 pairs of women's shoes by size to make the giveaway run smoothly.
As soon as the teens heard what size was needed, they ran to find the right pair of shoes.
"We just ran out of 11s," Meghan said. "It's the most popular size."
Her mother wished there were hiking boots to give away as in the past, but she was pleased that people waiting for shoes were patient.
"Everyone's happy getting something," she said.
"We got some diabetic shoes, which is really nice," said Dr. Abidi. "And everyone's getting their feet looked at."
Asked why she volunteered to help, Kathy Ruiz, a retired pediatric nurse, said, "It's our community."
One man wearing new shoes and a Kauai cap said he would like to see more resources for people in need.
"A lot of people are sick around here," he said, adding, "The middle class is starting to show up ... It's the economy."
Follow Sentinel reporter Jondi Gumz on Twitter at Twitter.com/jondigumz