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Tonya Larsen wasn't able to travel to see relatives this Thanksgiving, but celebrated the holiday with found family at a Thanksgiving dinner Monday at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.
Volunteers handed out plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce to some 2,000 Utahns experiencing homelessness or food insecurity during the annual Season of Service Thanksgiving Event sponsored by The Larry H. Miller Company and the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation.
The tradition, 25 years in the making, provides Utahns with a meal, as well as a variety of services like pet sitting, menstrual hygiene kits, health care and even haircuts.
For Larsen, the event was a gathering like the countless others that will take place across Utah on Thursday, complete with rambunctious reunions of old friends and family.
"My family is what little I have on the street," Larsen said, adding that this year she's grateful for her family: those related by blood and those not. "I can't be greedy and say just one side, because it's all of them."
Maia Mayer said she was touched to see the solidarity in the room, and grew emotional as she spoke about finding joy among the difficulties of life.
"There was a lot of love here in the building," she said. "It's just nice to see how much is being given back to the community because ... you don't get to hear a lot about the good things on the news and things like that."
"I'm not in the best situation myself, but I'm not in the worst so I'm really grateful for that," Mayer continued. "I have a roof over my head ... and our car barely works, but we're here, you know, and so I'm just grateful to be alive."
Mayer was there with her own family: her son, Jesse James, 5, and his baby sister, Amara. After realizing Jesse wanted a bottle of chocolate milk instead of the orange juice he was given, a man at a neighboring table quickly stepped in to offer a trade.
The annual Thanksgiving service event has grown organically over the years to include dozens of necessary services for the guests, according to Don Stirling, executive director at the Miller Family Office.
"They're excited about the meal, but they're also excited about the things that they can do to help improve their lives," he said. "(We) really try to provide a full suite of opportunities where they can leave knowing, 'Oh, I feel good about having a great meal, but maybe there's some things that can help me long-term in my life.'"
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson volunteered in the line serving food, and said opportunities to serve face-to-face are an important reminder of a shared humanity.
"Every time I engage with people who are having challenges with housing, you just learn people are people," she said. "I'm very grateful for the gifts that I have in my life and I think this is a great time of year to show gratitude."
Lance Lamberton said he fell on hard times after making it "to the top" of his career in sales, and he said he now understands just how vulnerable many are.
"I made a lot of money and then our family situation changed," he said. "but the thing I learned about is that I can be happy no matter what level I'm at in life. We don't measure things by the dollars and cents anymore."
Lamberton was celebrating his first Thanksgiving since marrying Tyra Vance just a few months ago. The newly mixed family was joined by Lamberton's son, Austin, and Vance's grandson, Kingston.
"It's more about things like this," Lamberton said.
Even at the worst of times, Mayer said she can look to her children for inspiration to remain positive.
"As children, that inner child that's inside of them and that's so alive is what looks for joy and for inspiration and magic in the mundane things and everyday things," she said. "They're closer to God than anything you know."