Dallas-Fort Worth charities expecting big crowds for holiday meals

Charities that offer free Thanksgiving dinners are expecting large crowds this week as families continue to feel the pinch of the poor economy.

Layoffs, pay cuts and rising expenses mean many families can't afford their own turkey dinner.

The Salvation Army expects to serve more than 2,000 homeless people and families in need at its shelters in Fort Worth, Dallas and Denton on Thursday.

"We really never know how many will come. There's no RSVP," said Patrick Patey, the group's public relations manager. "We're ready to serve all comers, and we try to make it fun and festive."

Families are expected to start arriving at 8 a.m. at Christian Center of Fort Worth for a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Volunteers at the Haltom City church expect to serve about 1,200 people, and the first 500 families will also receive a sack of groceries, said Charles Langford, associate pastor.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last week showed that 14.7 percent of U.S. households, or 45 million people, did not have "consistent, dependable access to enough food" in 2009.

Locally, the Tarrant Area Food Bank says more people have been depending on food pantries for help throughout the year.

In a regional report by Feeding America released in February, 41 percent of households that sought food aid in the food bank's 13-county service area said less money was available for food.

"The need just continues to increase," spokeswoman Andrea Helms said. "It's the working poor that we have always served, the elderly on fixed incomes. People have lost jobs and may not be able to piece together two to three part-time jobs like they used to. Their resources are strained."

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326