Shared from the 11/22/2018 San Antonio Express eEdition

THANKSGIVING

‘FEAST OF THE HEART’ IS JIMENEZ’S LEGACY

Daughter builds on tradition of feeding masses on the holiday

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Bob Owen / Staff file photo

Raul Jimenez greets a guest during the 1992 Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner at the Convention Center. His daughter, Patricia, now heads the effort.

When restaurateur Raul Jimenez founded his annual Thanksgiving dinner for seniors nearly 40 years ago, his family played a large part in the venture. His wife, Maria Del Refugio Jimenez, known as the pillar of the family, supported Jimenez along with son, Raul Jimenez Jr., and daughter, Patricia.

As the event grew, the man affectionally called, “Mr. J,” kept his eye on his shy little girl, who shared his belief in showering blessings upon the less fortunate. She ran errands for him and handed out pies at the dinners. And she witnessed the scores of strangers stopping her dad to offer their heartfelt thanks.

Before Jimenez died in 1998, he confided to his friend, Henry Farias, that Patricia was the one to lead the charity known as the “feast of the heart.”

For the past 21 years, Patricia Jimenez has served as chairwoman of the banquet that has become a San Antonio tradition. She has carried on the humanitarian’s legacy of serving seniors, the homeless and the lonely seeking fellowship by leading 4,000 volunteers of all ages at the Convention Center for what’s been called the city’s largest Thanksgiving dinner.

“It’s where thousands of people come together for one common cause,” Patricia Jimenez said. “It’s a dinner where you’re treated with dignity and respect.”

On Thanksgiving Day, she wakes at 3 a.m., like many of her fellow volunteers. An hour and a half later, she’s at the Convention Center where workers have prepared tons of food for the masses.

With a walkie-talkie in hand, Jimenez walks the mammoth space, checking to make sure everything runs without a hitch. The aroma of gravy, roast turkey and pumpkin pies wafts across the arena where volunteers have served more than 25,000 free meals in recent years. The menu has included 500 turkeys, or about 9,400 pounds; 6,250 pounds of stuffing; 4,688 pounds of yams, 25,000 dinner rolls and 3,000 pumpkin pies.

When the doors open at 9 a.m., Jimenez and her co-workers have ironed out details of the event where dignitaries and everyday folks stand side by side to serve guests at the dinner.

“He believed very deeply in giving back to people who didn’t have the good fortune that he did,” said Bexar County Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo, “and he still is, thanks to Patricia and his family. That is a great legacy, his spirit lives on through his daughter.”

Before his health declined from a bad heart and diabetes, Jimenez would walk among the diners, clad in his trademark floppy chef’s hat and apron, shaking hands, asking about guests’ welfare, accepting hugs and stopping for an occasional round of dancing.

Born in Del Rio, he didn’t own a pair of shoes until he was 7 years old. He’d worked as a migrant worker, had an eighth-grade education but never forgot his humble beginnings. In 1953, his father loaned him $2,000, and he opened the Jimenez Sausage Co., producing chorizo at night and selling it during the day.

As he became a successful Hispanic entrepreneur, he never forgot his father’s advice to always respect the older generation.

In 1972, Jimenez and a small crew of volunteers served 200 seniors at a Fort Worth parking lot, because, as he told his daughter, “it was the right thing to do.”

Several years later, he organized his first dinner in San Antonio, feeding 5,000 seniors with his own funds.

In 1989, when his business filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, corporate sponsors and private donors stepped up to underwrite the dinner.

Past servers have included archbishops, dignitaries, religious leaders and former mayors including Henry Cisneros, Nelson Wolff and Howard Peak.

In a 1994 interview, Raul Jimenez said the dinner was part of a higher calling.

“God said give food to those who are hungry and provide drink for those who are thirsty,” he said. “As long as I am here, that is what we’ll do.”

A longer version of this report by Vincent T. Davis ran July 9, 2015. Read it at ExpressNews.com.

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