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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Greg Davis, left, tells Freddie Olvera to have a good Thanksgiving as he hands him a turkey for his family on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011, at Backman Elementary school in Salt Lake. Contractors working on the North Temple TRAX line gave the turkeys to children and families.

SALT LAKE CITY — What started as a project to bring a catered Thanksgiving dinner to veterans grew into much more by the time the holiday arrived.

Engineers and others with Stacy and Witbeck Inc., the contractor building the North Temple TRAX line, work at the front doors of the businesses that line the street they are tearing up to add the light-rail line. One of those buildings houses Freedom Landing, a converted hotel at 1900 W. North Temple now run by the Salt Lake City Housing Authority as transitional housing for veterans that might otherwise be homeless.

"We typically like to do a lot of things with the community in our job site," said general superintendent Mike Howard, who said engineer and field superintendent Jennifer King came up with the idea of catering a Thanksgiving meal for the veterans.

"We started with a pass-the-bucket at our Monday morning safety meetings. One week we raised 300 bucks; the next week it was $400. That was about six weeks ago," Howard said. "We got word out to our subcontractors as well. Everybody just seemed super excited about this and we started getting some pretty substantial contributions from our subcontractors."

Project Manager Ryan Snow said workers invited the general contractor to play in. "I said 'Absolutely. We'd love to be a part of it. Anything we can do to get the subcontractors to donate, we'll match.'"

Organizers estimated it would cost about $3,000 to have a caterer bring in a Thanksgiving meal to Freedom Landing. As of a few days ago, contributions totaled $12,500. "That puts us just up over $25,000 with the match," Howard said.

That gave organizers a new project to work on: putting the rest of the money to use.

So they quietly went to work converting a conference room at Freedom Landing into a community room for the veterans. The veterans knew a dinner was planned, but they did not know what was coming after.

Following the meal, which was served Wednesday night, a wall covering was moved away to reveal a large, flat-screen TV fitted with cable service and an entertainment center. Then a truck rolled up, filled with leather furniture for the room so the vets could get their fill of football on Thanksgiving Day and beyond.

But that still left money for other projects. So, organizers visited nearby Backman Elementary on Saturday and contributed $2,000 to its turkey drive. Then the contractor's employees returned on Tuesday to help distribute the turkeys.

Another $2,000 went to the Fisher House, a facility for families of patients at the VA Hospital. Another $2,000 will go to the Utah Food Bank.

"We've got guys with some real character on this project," Howard said. "When we leave I sure want everybody to be friends with us."

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com, Twitter: SteveFidel