The turkeys were all carved, the potatoes perfectly whipped and the pies sat ready to eat as busy workers merrily prepped the scene for Southwest Behavioral Health’s 10th annual Thanksgiving feast.
Despite budget woes and laying off a third of the center’s staff in Payson, the event went on Nov. 18, a week before Thanksgiving.
Organizers said the event was too important to cancel with many patrons having no other place to go for dinner and many with no one else to share it with.
“Some consumers are surprised we are having it with the budget cuts, but I tell them we would never not have it,” said Nanci Stone, Southwest Behavioral Health’s (SBH) vice president.
In all, SBH staff roasted 39 turkeys and fed 230 clients, the second largest turnout in the past four years of the event.
Local organizations donated the turkeys, including 12 from Chili’s, 12 from the Tonto Apache Tribe, four from Qol Pharmacy, five from SBH board member Don Logue, two from the Kiwanis of Zane Grey Country and several more from Payson Apothecary Pharmacy and Safeway.
Stone says staff was surprised how easy it was to get turkeys donated this year and was grateful for the generosity.
The rest of the fixin’s were made by staff or donated.
The idea for the dinner came about as a way to say thank you to SBH consumers and their families, Stone said. SBH employees start planning for the feast in September and view it as a meaningful way to give something back to consumers.
Ever since it started, it has grown every year. Two years ago, 218 people attended and last year, 250.
“People come in and say thank you and when they leave they say thank you and I know a lot of these people are not going to have a Thanksgiving otherwise,” she said.
The event was bittersweet, however, with a third of the staff from last year not there. Stone says SBH had to lay off 21 people to meet budget cuts.
Up until 2008, the meal was served at the SBH Payson facility on Aero Drive, but several years ago it outgrew those accommodations and was relocated to Mount Cross Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall off Highway 260.