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The weather outside was frightful, and many a turkey day plan was going awry. But Chili Hills owner Debbie Goss made sure the word got out early with her Thanksgiving Day social media post, “Mother Nature’s bad attitude is not stopping us! We are here 4-8 to celebrate with you!”

She was referring to the, “Come Be Family Community Thanksgiving,” that she and her husband, Wes, host annually at their restaurants in Edgewood and Moriarty. Their staff had been preparing all week. And, thanks to sponsorships from 25 local businesses and several neighbors, the meals were free to all. Volunteers, eager to participate, were helping each other get to the event despite a foot of snow and slick roadways. Bobby Rosales brought his snowblower to clear a path out for Jani Klatt and her sister, Laura Velez. Erin Nelson, with her four-wheel drive truck, picked up Sue, and then went on to spread the word to truckers that a hot Thanksgiving meal was waiting for all who wanted to partake (she even helped pull a few stuck cars out of the snow). Still other volunteers shoveled sidewalks in front of the restaurants, while tables inside were getting set and ready.

Then, like clockwork, the guests began to arrive – and they kept coming and coming – until nearly 600 meals had been served in all. Many locals who had originally planned to venture west over the mountain, instead stayed closer to home. One couple, long range truckers, had expected to be on the road but were surprised to find themselves ‘stuck’ in their hometown of Edgewood. Options at home were slim since they were supposed to be away, and that can of chili in the cupboard just didn’t stand a chance against the Community Thanksgiving.

Everyone sits family style, meeting new friends, sharing tables as well as stories, and enjoying plates piled high with turkey and all the fixin’s. The kiddos got a special treat – only they were eligible to get a turkey leg. Volunteers buzzed about, chatting with everyone, and I happily snapped photos for those who wanted one and sent their images via text message – just a little memory of their holiday. Smiles and laughter were everywhere, and it reminded me of a childhood where cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents make holiday time magical.

One young man, newly relocated from Kansas to Sandia Park for an engineering job, hadn’t planned to venture to Edgewood. But the morning’s heavy snow had snapped his snow shovel. His online search for a new shovel had include “Edgewood Thanksgiving hours,” and up popped the chamber’s social media post inviting all to “come be family,” and so he came (after getting the very last shovel at a nearby store). Shy at first, our conversation soon included several other people, and we all shared stories of living in other parts of the country where they get ‘real snow’ conditions.

First responders and emergency workers were working hard throughout the region, too. Torrance County Commissioners Kevin McCall and Ryan Schwebach called Chili Hills in Moriarty to see about getting Thanksgiving meals for Torrance County Dispatch. Wes Goss was more than happy to provide 40 meals to feed them all. Over in Edgewood, a departing guest offered to bring meals to the Police and Fire stations. When they didn’t find anyone at the fire station, they headed to WalMart, where low and behold, a group of firefighters were about to buy sliced turkey to make sandwiches. Instead, they were thrilled to get real Thanksgiving meals.

“I just can’t stop smiling about being part of this,” said Debbie Goss, as she reflected on all the people her idea had just served.
After three years, this is a growing holiday tradition, one that started with a simple desire to make sure everyone had time with ‘family’ on Thanksgiving Day. Each year, we’re excited to see returning familiar faces, and thrilled to meet new neighbors in the crowd. In past years, we’ve had lots of travelers surprised to find small town hospitality is alive and well in America. This year, the weather created an opportunity for us to appreciate the warmth of sharing the holiday with our very own neighbors. It was a great reminder that family isn’t always the group you’re born into, it’s often the community you create around you.

Linda Burke is Executive Director for Greater Edgewood Area Chamber, supporting business and community prosperity throughout the East Mountains and Estancia Valley. Her enthusiasm for the region has been called contagious and her emails are often timestamped in the wee hours of the morning.