Virgilio and Rosa Linda Aguirre of the Denver 1st (Spanish) Ward, Lakewood Colorado Stake, invite the local community every year to join them in a free Thanksgiving meal at their family restaurant. Their service stems from a desire to give thanks to the Lord and to keep a promise to Him they made many years ago.
"I love the Lord; He is my Savior," Sister Aguirre said. "I know how to cook. That is what I can give."
Twenty-five years ago the Aguirre family was able to obtain a loan, and with the help of extended family, they opened their restaurant. The terms of their loan were risky, however. Brother Aguirre and his family were required to make a balloon payment within the first year, which means that instead of paying back the loan in monthly payments over a set amount of time, the Aguirres were required to make a lump-sum payment.
In light of this, they promised the Lord that if He would bless them with the business necessary to make the payment, they would provide food for the needy.
Fortunately, they were able to meet the requirements of the loan. "The Lord heard our prayers," Sister Aguirre said.
She said she knows the Lord has greatly blessed her life. "The Lord said, 'I will open the windows of heaven and bless you,'" she said. "But no, He opened the gates of heaven and said, 'Here, Rosa Linda. What are you going to do with what I have given you?' "
The first Free Thanksgiving Feast provided by the Aguirres at their restaurant was modest. They served shredded turkey with green chilies, rice and beans to about 150 local senior citizens. In recent years that number has increased to close to 3,800 and includes anyone regardless of their financial, social or religious backgrounds, Brother Aguirre said.
Thanks to donations from local residents and companies, many times there is more food than people to eat it. In such cases, food baskets are given to local families and food banks in the area.
As Sister Aguirre hands out food, sometimes people protest that it is "too much."
"I tell them, 'If this is too much, share with your neighbor,' " she said. "Nothing goes to waste."
Donations often come in the form of foodstuffs, money or volunteers who donate their time. Sister Aguirre said she loves to see volunteers coming back every year. "We become like a huge family," she said.
Brother Aguirre said seeing the needy leave with happy faces makes it all worth it.
With the continued growth and success of the event, the future of Free Thanksgiving Feast looks optimistic. "People ask if I'm going to do it again next year," Sister Aguirre said. "I say, 'We're still in business. Of course I'm going to do it!' "