Biz Buzz: Chili Hills creates a special Thanksgiving

It started out as an idea. Share the feeling of family that our small community exudes with our neighbors whose family are not nearby and our first responders who work holidays keeping us safe.

Debbie and Wes Goss, owners of Chili Hills restaurants, knew they had the desire, the location and the skills to make it possible. What they needed was a little help from the community to make it happen.

With a little outreach to Edgewood Chamber of Commerce members, help came from a dozen local businesses and Legacy Church to sponsor “Come Be Family—Community Thanksgiving.” Add about 30 volunteers from different chamber businesses, Community Emergency Rescue Team (CERT), and Legacy Church eagerly provided the help needed to set up, serve, and clean up. All were expertly guided by two Chili Hills staffers who cooked and prepped mountains of food.

That tells you how it happened, but it’s not nearly as incredible as what happened that evening: A spirit of community and caring humanity filled the restaurant. Guests, seated side-by-side wherever a seat was available, filled the tables, which were set up family style. They met each other and began sharing stories. Laughter and good cheer quickly filled with restaurant.

But here’s the amazing part. Among those guests were a few travelers who had simply exited Interstate 40 looking for a restaurant that was open for business. What made them exit in Edgewood? None could say for sure, but their stories seemed to suggest that maybe they each needed something more than food, and managed to find it our little hamlet.

One family, a mother and her two children, were on the road because they “just needed to get away from home.” The mother, with tears filling her eyes, explained that one year ago, on Thanksgiving Day, her husband had died of a massive heart attack. She and the children just could not bear the idea of being at home on this Thanksgiving without him. So, they got in the car, got on the freeway and drove. They didn’t have a plan or a destination, they just wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere but home. They stumbled upon Chili Hills. At first, they tried to leave, feeling they did not belong. But Debbie Goss insisted they stay and enjoy the Thanksgiving meal. The mother was clearly touched to feel the love of our community wrap around her and her children. It was far more than they had expected on this Thanksgiving, but exactly what they needed.

Another couple, traveling from Iowa, were heading to Arizona. They were traveling because the husband had recently lost his long-time job as a mechanic, and a short-time gig with family was waiting there. They didn’t have long-term plans in Arizona, and really weren’t sure what they would do next. Their life seemed “up in the air.” But, after their stop in Edgewood, and their experience of the Community Thanksgiving, they were left wondering if this isn’t the exact place they were meant to find and start anew.

Another woman had heard of the Thanksgiving event and asked a few friends to meet her at the restaurant. She arrived, sat in a booth alone and waited. She waited a while. Surrounded by people, still, her sense of isolation was noticeable. At last, her friends arrived. They moved to a larger table and the woman’s smile beamed. They enjoyed the holiday meal—together, just as intended. But, that is not the real story. As a volunteer was cleaning tables, she found a bracelet where the woman originally sat. The volunteer scanned the restaurant, looking for the woman who had sat alone. The woman seemed surprised that anyone had noticed her at the original table, and was thankful to have her bracelet returned. Despite feeling alone, perhaps she now knows she is not invisible to others here.

And so it went, for four hours. Story after story, smiles and laughter, and real community camaraderie. No one was turned away. In all, about 120 people were served full Thanksgiving meals and pie—for free. Those who came expecting a tab were told to keep their money, this was a community gift. Those who came expecting only a meal, left filled up with goodwill too. We sometimes take for granted the gifts of our community, but moments like this remind us all, we are fortunate to live in a very special place.

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