SALEM, Ore. -- On a day many of us gather in homes, hundreds went to a Salem restaurant called Blond Zee's Guest House.
The doors were open for only two hours on Thanksgiving. It’s taken four days to prepare the meal.
They cooked up to 800 pounds of mashed potatoes, 200 pounds of turkey, 200 pounds of ham and much more. The cost to the owner is in the thousands.
But for the public, every Thanksgiving meal here is free. Some find that hard to believe.
“There's no charge. It’s for free. Its free you don't have to pay for it,” the owner, Melissa Lucas, told a caller on the phone.
It's a real lifeline for some.
“I myself am homeless and I just found out about it this morning,” said Heather Larson. "I was really excited about it. I'm starving and I ate it all and its wonderful food!"
Others are longtime customers who did not realize they walked into a tradition of giving.
“Yeah we came in for the chicken fried steak,” said Angela Ashley. “But they just gave us this plate and we were like hey, there you go!”
The workers are a mix of employees and customers who volunteered for this special day.
Behind the scenes, this is more than a celebration of Thanksgiving. It’s the triumph of a dream realized for the restaurant’s new owner, Melissa Lucas.
“I graduated high school four months pregnant, big secret. Nobody knew. So, super tough,” she said.
Lucas was a single mom, eventually with three kids and a lifelong dream of owning her own restaurant.
She later got married, added three stepchildren. Eleven years ago, she started as a waitress in the very building giving out free meals on Thursday.
“I saved and saved and saved that tip money, working full time as bar manager on the floor until the day I bought it,” Lucas said.
That was just over a year ago. As the new owner, she decided to stick with the tradition of free Thanksgiving meals which the original owner started 25 years ago.
“It’s about anyone who is in need. I've been that pregnant teenager, that single mom. I know what it’s like to wonder which bill you're going to pay and what you're going to eat for food the next day,” she said.
And so the tradition lives on. A free meal at Blond Zee’s Guest House, a community of love available to anyone who wants or needs it.
It’s a celebration of the season by a spirit that refused to be defeated, and is now so thankful.