It was a chance to celebrate and get relief like a normal family. We wouldn't be able to have a family meal of our own. It was a treat. —Amber White
SALT LAKE CITY — Families staying at The Road Home got a chance to give their kids an unexpected Thanksgiving feast and a night of fun Tuesday with the help of one Utah family and a few gracious volunteers.
Buses carried 31 families and residents of the women's housing unit from The Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City to Golden Corral in Midvale to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner and then to the Hollywood Connection fun center in West Valley City for a chance to escape their worries for a night.
Pepa Taufui and his family have been organizing the Thanksgiving event for 15 years. In the past two years, they have been joined by an increasing number of Taufui's co-workers at Varian Medical Systems who have volunteered to help.
With the help of the 11-person committee from Varian and the generosity of Golden Corral and Hollywood Connection, Taufui said this is the biggest group he has had participate.
He was overcome with emotion Tuesday as the final groups sat down to eat.
"When I see these families enjoy themselves, that's the best part," he said quietly, wiping tears from his eyes.
Three buses from Le Bus provided transportation for the group free of charge, while Golden Corral and Hollywood Connection provided meals and admission at half price. The evening cost more than $1,400, which had been raised by Taufui and his volunteer committee.
Stephen and Amber White, along with their four young children, have been staying at The Road Home for several weeks. The family was evicted from their apartment after Stephen, a disabled veteran, lost his job in September.
He was just hired to a new job in Provo, making Tuesday's outing the perfect way to celebrate, Amber White said.
"It was a chance to celebrate and get relief like a normal family," she said. "We wouldn't be able to have a family meal of our own. It was a treat."
As her three energetic sons, ages 5, 3 and 2, chattered excitedly about what to try first at the fun center, Amber White said she was grateful to have the boys and her 1-year-old daughter outside of the shelter.
"We're usually just in our room, and it can get pretty dull for them," she said. "There's a playground there, but this is something special."
The family settled on mini golf for their first activity at the urging of their oldest child, 5-year-old Roland. The boy said other than the mini golf, the the best part of the night was eating stuffing and cornbread at the restaurant.
Renald Farnsworth, owner of the Midvale Golden Corral, said the restaurant's kitchen staff had prepared extra food from their Thanksgiving menu to make sure everyone from the shelter got a holiday dinner.
"We cooked a lot of turkeys today," he laughed. "We're really excited to be able to see these people enjoy themselves and get a good, balanced meal."
Farnsworth estimated about 150 people from The Road Home ate at the restaurant Tuesday.
Taylor Gooch works with Taufui and was anxious to join the committee after hearing how successful last year's event was. He and his wife, Kaisha, helped plan the event and were on hand to direct visitors at the fun center.
"It's a good opportunity to give back," Taylor Gooch said. "It's nice to make sure everyone has a meal, but to bring all the kids to something like this and give them something to do as well … you can't help with something like this and not feel good."
Several customers at the restaurant and the fun center took interest in the group throughout the night, asking the volunteers how the event had been organized.
One woman leaving the restaurant paused and took the hand of volunteers, telling them, "This is very kind of you. God bless your heart."