Before he ate Thanksgiving dinner, David Mix sat down for a haircut.
"Trim it up," he told his stylist, Mary Anne Elwood.
The haircut was free, as was the dinner. Mix was one of the thousands who attended Redwood Gospel Mission's Great Thanksgiving Banquet on Wednesday at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
The event, in its 19th year, offers a piping hot feast featuring turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie to all who come. Also provided were frozen turkeys, flu shots, coats, medical checkups, and, for 1,100 families, bags full of food.
Mix, who drives cement trucks by trade, struggled to find permanent work during the recession. He moved to Santa Rosa earlier this year to be with family, but he said shortly after he arrived someone stole a bag with most of his belongings, including his identification.
"I lost everything I had," he said. "Now I'm getting shaped up with new clothing, this haircut. I'm starting from nothing again."
"You can do that here," said Elwood as she lifted some of Mix's silvery hair with a comb and snipped it. The owner of a local hair salon, she's been cutting hair at the Thanksgiving Banquet for 15 years.
"If there's a need, you need to fill it," she said with a shrug. "It's great to give back."
Mix nodded. "Who knows, maybe I'll be contributing in a year or two."
Jeff Gilman, executive director of the Redwood Gospel Mission, said about 600 volunteers pitched in this year. Some had received services in years past and returned to help.
Gilman expected 5,000 or more people from Santa Rosa and the surrounding area to attend this year. That's up from about 300 the first year the banquet was held at Gospel Mission's downtown facility and around 1,400 in 2000, when Gospel Mission moved the growing event to the fairgrounds.
"We welcome all comers," he said.
He noted the group has never struggled to meet the demand, thanks to the community's help. The banquet costs the group about $20,000, which is mainly funded by donations from individuals, businesses and churches.
There was a spectrum of people seated in the dining hall and milling around the various stations at the fairgrounds Wednesday afternoon. Some were chronically homeless; others were just recently down on their luck. Some were day laborers struggling to make ends meet; others were families just seeking a little extra help for the holidays.
Jerry Farley came with his wife and three children. He said they're doing OK financially. But, with three teenagers who love to eat, they can always use extra food.
He stood with paperwork in hand, having just had his blood checked by a representative of St. Joseph Health. He watched as his 14-year-old son Zephaniah sat melted into a reclining chair, eyes closed and a giant grin on his face. Jim Thornton, a volunteer with New Life Christian Fellowship in Petaluma, carefully rinsed and massaged the boy's feet, emulating the Bible's account of Jesus doing the same for his disciples. Thornton said when he heard about the volunteer opportunity, he jumped on it.
"It's a wonderful gift to give away," he said. It was his sixth foot washing of the day.
"Absolutely," was his quick reply when asked if he'd do it again. "It's been an absolute delight."