Thousands expected to be fed in Salvation Army's Helpings from the Heart event



ORLANDO, Fla. - The Salvation Army hosted its annual Helpings from the Heart Thursday, and the organization said it's expected to feed about 25,000 people.

More than 1,000 volunteers were up early to cook large amounts of food for people to enjoy a hot Thanksgiving meal.

"This is my first ever Thanksgiving, or any holiday, homeless," said Velvet Nance.

Nance told WFTV reporter Karla Ray that she was one of the first in line at the Salvation Army, and she's been homeless for six months after leaving an abusive boyfriend.

"If they didn't open this up, a lot of people would be hungry today," said Nance.

Restaurants such as Golden Corral and the Hard Rock Café, along with the volunteers, teamed up to help the Salvation Army.

"At the end of the day, this is a day of thanks. This is their home on Thanksgiving Day," said Jason Gronlund of the Hard Rock Café.

Gronlund said the need has grown each year, but even with more demand, everyone is welcome.

"We don't ask why.  You could be a millionaire by yourself and just want fellowship.  And you're here and that's fine with us. We try to make it when you come in that you have food on the counter and you're going to sit down with family," said Gronlund.

"They give you dignity and help you," Nance said.

For Lori Epstein and her 2-year-old son Sydney, waiting in line is about more than a meal.

"We know everybody here, so yeah, we enjoy coming here," said Epstein.

This year, she's spending Thanksgiving at the Salvation Army by choice.

But last year, she and her little boy were living in a shelter.

"It's the only reason I turned my life around. They are why, well God of course, but through them," said Epstein.

The doors will stay open until 5 p.m. at the Salvation Army on Colonial Drive.