DALLAS — Seven years ago, Samira Page and a small group of fellow refugees sat around her table where the guests experienced their first traditional American Thanksgiving Day feast.
This year, the Iranian native invited about 400 refugees for the meal that has outgrown her home and become an annual event.
“For some of these people, this is their first Thanksgiving. We have refugees who have been here less than a month. And we have some who have been here five years,” said Page, founder and executive director of Gateway of Grace, a Christian outreach ministry for refugees.
The guests at her feast are from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Elsewhere in Texas, communities served Thanksgiving meals to the homeless and victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Page’s own journey came 19 years ago, when she traveled from Iran to Turkey, to Mexico, to the United States. She converted to Christianity and studied for the ministry at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
One of her outreach methods is to present traditional feasts, including Christmas and Easter. But she starts with Thanksgiving.
“Imagine being brand new in a country at the start of the holidays,” Page said. “No extended family, no one to share it with. And every day you see people and stores gear up for a celebration you’re no part of.”
What started with four or five fellow refugees gathered around her dining room table for turkey and sides seven years ago has grown to fill the parish hall of St. John’s Episcopal Church near White Rock Lake in northeastern Dallas.
Some of the refugees are not accustomed to the taste of turkey, Page said, so she serves them an alternative: chicken.
Other Thanksgiving feasts in Texas cater to the homeless and residents still recovering from Harvey, which made landfall in the state as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25 and brought massive flooding.
In Southeast Texas, the Cajun Army emergency volunteer group prepared hundreds of meals in Houston and Orange for families still without kitchen facilities because of damage from Harvey.
The annual Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Day Dinner prepared more than 25,000 meals Thursday in San Antonio. The first Jimenez Thanksgiving dinner served about 100 dinners in 1979.
In Austin, Operation Turkey provided about 40,000 Thanksgiving meals to the homeless.
Houston held the Thanksgiving Superfeast for about 10,000 homeless people outside City Hall.
This story has been corrected to show that the first event was held seven years ago, not nine years ago.