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Individuals and groups gathered at the Red Shield Diner to prepare and serve meals for over 75 people during The Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving lunch Thursday.

The Red Shield Diner serves over 125 lunch and dinner meals every day. Because the organization’s usual dining space has been transformed into a food pantry, patrons were served in several smaller rooms, Commanding Officer Lt. Teri Smith said. Prior to the meal, she gave the volunteers a pep talk.

“It’s not a normal day for people who come to The Salvation Army often, so thank you for decorating, setting things up, even rolling up the plasticware. Something as simple as rolling some plastic silverware makes it something different and special,” Smith said. “We want to always make them feel like they’re a guest, but for a holiday we want to make them feel even more special because it is a special day. It’s a day that we can give thanks for what God has blessed us with.”

Volunteers like Greg Saunders and Joshua Mullinax didn’t need a pep talk to spoon cranberry sauce into plastic containers that morning. “Being here to serve” was all the motivation they needed.

“I got saved like a year and a half ago and I used to be really, really wild — prison, jail, all that, women, drugs, drinking, women, everything. I got saved and God started dealing with me, so I just try to do more good than bad,” Mullinax said.

Saunders, a member of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, said that he decided to pick up the tradition of volunteering even though his group didn’t come with him.

“Deeds won’t get you anywhere, but we’re put here to serve,” Saunders said. “The way I found out about this is I used to have a bread route. My cousin, who’s a minister, he was involved in The Salvation Army so some of the bread that wasn’t too old that I had to pull off the shelf, I would bring it here and I kind of got started there.

The Salvation Army doesn’t just cater to the homeless or displaced. The organization’s 14 employees provide assistance at its main office, emergency shelter, diner and thrift store. The social services department, specifically, offers emergency groceries, utilities, and rent assistance, Smith said.

Eating meals at The Salvation Army helps John and Charlotte Fargis save money. When he can make it from work, John picks up his wife to go eat there, the patriarch said.

“We come down here at least once a week, more if we can. The food is good. The service is good,” Charlotte Fargis said.

The Fargises are recovering from a house fire that happened three years ago. To alleviate some of the expenses, Charlotte’s husband is doing much of the work himself, he said.

“We had to gut the house out and redo everything … It’s a long process. It takes a lot of money to redo it,” John Fargis said. “I’m a bricklayer, but you can do anything because of YouTube.”

The couple says that The Salvation Army doesn’t just help the homeless and that community members shouldn’t be ashamed to eat at the Red Shield Diner. Those who received a meal on Thanksgiving were given a takeout meal for dinner and a small gift.

“A lot of people look down on it … They’ll help anyone,” John Fargis said. “Sometimes I be in here eating and I hear some people complaining about the food choices (saying) ‘I ain’t going to eat this’ and all that … It just burns me up that people take this place for granted when these people work to take care of people, and us. Some people just don’t appreciate it.”

To volunteer or receive assistance at The Salvation Army, call 870-863-4630 or visit them at 419 S. Madison Ave.

Brittany Williams may be reached at 870-862-6611 or Follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook @BWilliamsEDNT for updates on Union County school news.

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