- Katie Hall American-Statesman Staff
People — some to serve, some to be served — poured into the Palmer Events Center on Tuesday afternoon for H-E-B’s annual Feast of Sharing.
Diners were greeted by smiling volunteers and the smells of a Thanksgiving meal, as well as H-E-B’s mascot, H‑E‑Buddy, a giant grocery bag that gave high-fives and hugs to families and individuals as they arrived.
For the 28th year in a row, the grocery store chain brought the Austin community together for a free Thanksgiving meal. Austin-area volunteers served the free meal to about 12,000 people. Hosting the Austin event takes 1,400 volunteers, and the United Way’s Hands on Central Texas sign-up site indicated all the spots had been taken.
In addition to hot food and entertainment, the event allows Austin-area nonprofits to connect those in need to available social services. Free flu shots were offered to guests, and about 20 nonprofits were on site to educate people about services, such as elder care, health clinics and shelters.
Craig Robinson, who was attending for the third year in a row, said he comes for “the entertainment, the camaraderie, and of course, the food.”
The event also includes live musical performances and family-friendly activities.
“I like the social event,” Robinson said. “It brings people together, young and old, and I like being here with everyone.”
H-E-B in 1989 started hosting the dinners, which now include more than 250,000 meals served during 33 dinners held throughout Texas and Mexico.
Several volunteers said they love starting off their holiday season by working at the feast. Tanya Zal, donning an elaborate paper bag turkey hat, welcomed people to the event’s arts and crafts area with a grin.
“It’s very welcoming,” Zal said. “You can walk in and immediately sit down and get fed. The fact that it seems so seamless is a real testament to the organizers.”
Zal, the public programs coordinator at the Contemporary Austin museum, said she’s been volunteering at the Feast of Sharing for the last three years.
“It’s a chance to give back to the community,” she said. “It’s just about coming together to sit down and share a meal.”