BRADENTON -- Thanksgiving started for Brian Schultz almost two weeks ago, when he began the preliminaries for a free holiday meal the Salvation Army provides each year.
That meant 96 turkeys, 300 pounds of potatoes, 150 pounds of stuffing, eight cases of green beans and 120 pies, said Schultz, who is the kitchen manager for the charitable organization.
This year, Schultz planned for between 500 and 800 people, more than last year's total of 400, he said.
Thursday, a long line of people straggled out the door as the smell of roast turkey, stuffing and gravy wafted through the packed dining hall at 1204
14th St. W.
"We're seeing more families," said Christine Smith, director of community relations and development for the Salvation Army. "Things are tough, families are struggling, it's a sign of the economy."
One couple enjoying dinner was Natalie and Tony Riddle, both of Bradenton, who brought their children to eat because they knew some of the workers there.
The pair also wanted to spend some time with their kids, T.J., 9, and Lita, 10, both students at Ballard Elementary, they said.
"This is a coming-together," said Tony Riddle, 37, gesturing around the busy room. "This is what Thanksgiving is all about."
The organization's new leader, Maj. Duane Durham, and a cadre of 50 volunteers served as waiters and kept the food flowing to hungry patrons.
Among the volunteers helping Thursday were three generations of one family: Barbara Randall, 64; her daughter, Ericka Randall, 33; and Ericka's son, Tyler Randall, 14, a freshman at Manatee High School.
Tyler admitted he was surprised at how many people arrived to dine.
His grandma said she hoped the day's events would help him to be thankful for what he's got.
"This is our first time coming out, showing him there's some people that don't have homes," said Barbara Randall. "We hope we'll teach him values, to appreciate the little things."