Not content to keep their blessings to themselves, former Santa Clara mayor Larry Marsalli, 88, Elise, his wife, their three children and their families-four generations-have invited the hungry Santa Clara community to join them for Thanksgiving dinner for the last eight years.
This year the Marsalli family, joined by 75 volunteers from the community, served a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey breast and all the trimmings to about 700 people on Thanksgiving Day between noon and 3 p.m. The invitation to the free dinner is spread by word of mouth and fliers around town.
Groups such as the Bill Wilson Center, Senior Center shut-ins, Carmelite Monastery, and a motel on El Camino that houses needy people, had dinner delivered to them.
But most families and individuals found their way to St. Clare’s Catholic Church Parish Hall, festively decorated with pictures and flowers on the tables. Elise Marsalli played tunes from the 40s and 50s on the piano. Diners sometimes came up to the piano to sing along.
“There were lots of families with little kids. To see the looks on those kids’ faces is just unreal,” says Marsalli. “My own three kids say we take these things for granted. It really makes us feel good to do this. It’s just a special feeling you get to see how happy the families and children are.
“Two different people told us that it was the first meal they’d had in three or four days,” says Marsalli. No one was turned away even though they ran out of stuffing and mashed potatoes at the end.
Marsalli’s daughter, Denise, purchased several hundred pounds of stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, 20 gallons of gravy, more than 1,600 pieces of dessert, and 40 10- to 12-pound turkey breasts, which Marsalli’s son, Jerry, was in charge of cooking.
“Our family is truly blessed to share this special holiday with others, and we appreciate the opportunity to provide meals to those that might not get to celebrate Thanksgiving in the same manner that we have over the years,” says daughter Lauri Taylor,
The Marsalli Family Thanksgiving, formalized three years ago as a 501(c) non-profit foundation, has grown from serving 125 meals in 2007 to serving 700 this year (down from the 780 served in 2013) at a cost of $5,000 to $6,000. The cost is covered by donations, including a recent check for $2,026.70 from the Rotary Club of Santa Clara.
“I was flabbergasted. I was in tears,” says Marsalli. The Mission City Community Fund, Kiwanis Club, and individuals also contribute. “People will see me and hand me five or 10 dollars or send a check in the mail.” Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
“This has made our family more appreciative of all we have,” says Marsalli, who was born in Santa Clara on Santa Clara Street.
Marsalli’s maternal grandmother emigrated from Italy when she was six. His father emigrated from Italy at 13, served in the Army in WWI, and received a Purple Heart after being shot in France. Marsalli served in the Army in WWII.
Marsalli served on the City Council from 1963 to 1973 and as Mayor in 1967 and 1968. He was a volunteer fireman from 1946 to 1967. Marsalli believes that he and his family have been blessed to serve and be a blessing to others-and not just at Thanksgiving.