I remember my first introduction to the homeless. It was on the streets of New York City, and I was dumbstruck by the immensity of the plight - which, until that moment, was completely foreign to me.

People were living in the streets and alleys; they were sleeping in cardboard boxes, on air grills and benches or wherever the desperate could lay their heads. To me it was a circumstance where curiosity and sympathy grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let me turn away. A dime here and a quarter there seemed to pacify my conscience and temper the hungry look that was around every corner.A second experience of significance occurred a couple of years ago when the Linton family volunteered to spend Thanksgiving afternoon serving meals with the Salvation Army. We went with a touch of apprehension and came away with a reward of understanding that we will never forget.

We still talk about the hundreds who appeared out of nowhere. We are still more thankful for what gives us comfort of spirit, mind and body.

This year, in addition to the Salvation Army, others such as the Greek Orthodox Church and one known affectionately as "the lady under the bridge" also served meals. And, once more, the Lintons were one among the unnumbered hundreds of families and individuals who volunteered wherever they could. I believe I can speak for all who participated by saying we were doubly blessed by this bounteous Thanksgiving experience.

This Thanksgiving was special for the Salvation Army because after tens of thousands of meals served from rented and borrowed buildings, it was the first year meals were served from a new home. On June 19, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints deeded to the Salvation Army a chapel for worship and service. Located at 438 S. Ninth West, the building and grounds were a gift in recognition of a 100-year Salvation Army tradition that "has done so much good in the Salt Lake City community and in communities across the United States."

This year I had the opportunity to work with Mohammed Mojazza, who spent countless hours in preparation for the dinner. When I asked him why he did it, he said, "When I help the needy each day, I feel good each day." Mojazza is Persian and came from Iran to be schooled at Utah State University. He has since become a U.S. citizen and is in the restaurant business in Salt Lake City and Bountiful.

Mohammed Mojazza and his army spent several days preparing for the feast. They baked 35 turkeys and prepared all of the trimmings in around-the-clock shifts. On the eve of Thanksgiving, Mojazza said he only had 20 pumpkin pies and put out a citywide plea for support. Before the night was over, he had 500 of the traditional desserts.

In contrast to past years, this year's primary thrust was taking dinners to the homes of those in need. Sixty-five drivers delivered meals to 500 homes throughout the valley.

For those dining in the Salvation Army building, it was a happy and pleasant occasion. People were laughing and going out of their way to make everybody comfortable. The dining hall was filled with wonderful aromas and there was a spirit of friendship and music in the air. This year we missed hearing the traditional Salvation Army Band and Chorus, but were nevertheless rewarded by live piano music. Toward the end of the day our oldest daughter, Laura, ventured up on the stage and picked her way through several tunes.

This is what Thanksgiving is about, and this in part is what cities should be about. How we deal with the less fortunate among us tells a lot about the quality of our society. And those societies that do care, in a responsible fashion, are regarded most successful.

I'll conclude with a Thanksgiving wish that all of the cities within our influence will become centers of love and assistance to those in need. And that the motto "league of mercy" adopted by the Salvation Army will be an integral part of our lives now and always.