Mijna Alvarado can't wait to see her family on Thanksgiving, including five great-grandchildren and five of her 17 grandchildren.
She'll have turkey ready for them. Alvarado made sure by getting in line Monday at 3:30 a.m.
Lou Pendas handed out 1,000 turkeys early Monday to people who needed a free one to celebrate Thanksgiving. At least 100 more people wanted turkeys, but showed up after all were given out.
Pendas, a lawyer, started the giveaway last year in Orlando. He'll return there today to hand out another 1,000 turkeys.
The idea came from clients who complained about not having enough money for a Thanksgiving bird.
"And to me, in this country, that's hard to believe," said Pendas, 45.
Calls began coming into his Tampa office two weeks ago, sometimes 40 a day. Monday at the office on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, about 500 people were in line by 8 a.m.
Alvarado, 59, said only one other man was there when she arrived.
The economy has been hard on her family, and for her after moving less than a year ago from Puerto Rico. She stays home with her 40-year-old daughter, Mijna Zayas, and her two children. She couldn't stop smiling at the thought of a 14-pound turkey in the middle of mashed potatoes, stuffed potato, yucca and rice with bacon and ham.
"This is very good," Alvarado said. "It's a blessing."
In line, some wore pajamas, most wore sweaters, a few walked with canes. Others sang and danced to hits streaming live from 92.5 Maxima FM. They clapped for those already clutching turkeys.
Cristina Rivera, 79, was dizzy when she got to the line. A man gave her his chair. She sat next to a friend, Felipe Zaldivar, who had held their spot since 5 a.m.
The turkey will be Rivera's main course for days. She said she would cook the turkey in the oven the way an American woman showed her 30 years ago when she arrived from Cuba.
Pendas said he can relate to his clients. He and his parents were exiled from Cuba when he was 5 years old.
"And I'm living the American dream. I'm blessed tremendously," Pendas said. "I feel it's my obligation to do this."
His wife, Ada, and two sons, Gabriel and Daniel, helped hand out turkeys. Pendas hopes they'll continue his tradition.
Ileana Morales can be reached at 813-226-3386 or [email protected]