Thousands show up for USO Thanksgiving meal

By Mahsa Saeidi, Reporter
POSTED: 10:59 AM Nov 22 2012   UPDATED: 6:30 PM Nov 22 2012
JACKSONVILLE -

Marines, sailors, and their families gathered for an annual holiday feast at the Jacksonville USO.

The event, which has been put on for 20 years, began Thanksgiving Day at 10:30 a.m.; the volunteer cooks, however, started their days closer to 5:30 a.m. There are 150 volunteers, and they said they served about 3,000 people.  Last year, approximately 2,600 people came out.

"The food is great, the price is great," said Lance Cpl. Lee Weber, 23, of Jacksonville, who was at the USO with wife Ashley, and their two young boys. "It's very nice and refreshing to be back home in America with my family."

The Weber family is far away from loved ones in Louisiana.  They came to the USO to be surrounded by their military family. "It makes us not feel so alone," said wife Ashley.  "You know if we were just sitting at home eating Thanksgiving food, it would just not feel the same."

Ashley said she is thankful that her husband is home for the holidays.  Weber has deployed twice in four years, and has not been home for the holidays since 2009.

Organizers say this event would not be possible without donations and volunteers. 

One such volunteer was Sgt. Major Ernest Hoopii, of Marine Corps Installations East.  Hoopii said his thoughts and prayers are with those serving overseas, "we love you guys, we miss you guys, can't wait until you're back home with us."