For more than 100 people, Thanksgiving Day in Kansas City is a time to deliver Salvation Army meals to those in need.
They line up at the Salvation Army’s Linwood Center, 101 W. Linwood Blvd., to pick up hot turkey meals with all the trimmings, then fan out throughout the metro area to distribute nourishment and good cheer to more than 900 homebound and elderly people.
“This group is my heroes,” Jane Sander, the agency’s metro volunteer director, said Thursday as the line of volunteers stretched out of the garage. “These folks would not have dinner without you.”
For more than 25 years, Sander said, Pete Stepp of Lee’s Summit was one of the most devoted Salvation Army volunteers. He recruited friends and family to join him, and they looked forward every year to delivering Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to residents of the Pemberton Heights low-income apartment building on East 51st Street.
But Stepp died of a heart attack at age 63 in May.
That made this Thanksgiving Day all the more poignant for Stepp’s family and friends. They were determined to carry on the tradition in his name.
“Pete never met a stranger. He had a heart of gold,” said longtime friend Tom Mykins, whom Stepp recruited to help with deliveries more than 12 years ago. It made Thanksgiving Day so much more meaningful.
“It just sets the day off right,” Mykins said. “Thanksgiving is all about giving back.”
Doug Bastien, another friend, said Stepp embodied that attitude.
“We loved him,” Bastien said. “We think he’s here with us.”
Bastien brought his 12-year-old daughter, Emma, with him Thursday to collect the food and begin deliveries. They were joined by Stepp’s wife of 10 years, Pamela, and her son Joe Pollard plus Pollard’s wife, Leslie, and three of their five children.
“We’re doing this for Pete,” Joe Pollard said.
The day didn’t go quite as planned. They headed out to Pemberton Heights, expecting to reconnect with about 50 residents whom Stepp had befriended and loved seeing every year.
John Norman, a longtime resident of the building who knew Stepp, rolled his wheelchair into the parking lot, and tearfully greeted Stepp’s widow.
“It was sudden. It was shattering,” she told Norman of her husband’s death. “He loved coming here.”
But then Bastien and Mykins realized that they had all been given different delivery addresses, and that Pemberton Heights wasn’t on their distribution list. Someone else had the meals for Pemberton. So they had to split up and head in new directions.
Stepp and her family headed north of the Missouri River to an apartment building for seniors. There, she cheerfully greeted residents on the delivery list and asked if they needed anything besides the meal.
“Oh, for me?” Nila Sanders said as she answered the door and smiled at Stepp’s grandchildren. “Thank you very much.”
Sanders said the meal was very welcome. “Better than my pot of beans,” she laughed.
Bernice Bowman was just as enthusiastic, saying she’s gotten several Thanksgiving Day deliveries over the years. “And they’ve been perfect,” she said.
By 1 p.m., all the meals had been delivered and Pamela Stepp and her family prepared to go to their own holiday celebrations. It was not the same without Pete, but the work honored his memory and was a great lesson for the grandchildren, his widow said.
“That’s his heart,” she said of the Salvation Army outreach. “He loved the people.”