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West Tenampa Mexican Restaurant has served free Thanksgiving meals to the community for the last six years.

HUNTINGTON — The owner of a Mexican restaurant who serves a traditional Thanksgiving meal to the community for free each year said he enjoys the American tradition but hopes to include more Mexican dishes in the future.

Jose Lupe Valencia, owner of West Tenampa Mexican Restaurant, gave away Thanksgiving meals for the sixth year on Thursday, with help from family friend and chef-for-the-day Tinia Creamer, and said it was a success.

Though they have given out meals that consist of turkey, yams, vegetables, pie and more each Thanksgiving, this year, Valencia decided to add a version of pozole, a Mexican hominy soup, to the mix.

“It (the pozole) turned out great and it may be my favorite food here today,” Valencia said. “I hope people like the food and I want to maybe make more Mexican dishes at next year’s meal.”

Valencia said even though he wants to expand the meal to incorporate Mexican dishes, he does not want to get rid of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner he has enjoyed the last few years.

Valencia and Creamer gave away more than 120 to-go boxes of food and had some people dine in and make a plate.

Creamer said she was happy they are able to serve so many people and was happy to see the food distribution ran smoother than last year’s meal, which had to be to-go only due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a lot smoother this year and I’m so glad we can give back to the community,” Creamer said. “Community is what Thanksgiving is all about, to me at least, so I’m glad people can come here and get some good food and enjoy the day.”

Across town, Huntington City Mission gave away more than 500 boxes of food to community members Thursday.

Jodi Dowell, public relations and special events coordinator for the Huntington City Mission, said roughly 100 volunteers and a few businesses made great contributions to the Huntington City Mission to ensure they could feed as many people as possible this year.

First-time volunteer Allora McCullough said she was happy to help serve the community and hopes events such as the free Thanksgiving meals make people more aware that there are people in need.

“People, they’re all just really thankful and really surprised by the food, the amount of food they get,” she said. “I definitely want to come back, maybe not on Thanksgiving but just to volunteer regularly to help out because people need help year-round and it’s important to do what we can.”

Sarah Ingram is a reporter for HD Media, covering Wayne County. Follow her on Twitter @IngramWCn.

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