The first turkey went into the oven at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Whew. Only 19 more to prepare.

As they have for many years, volunteers for the Tamaqua Salvation Army began preparing their annual feast a day ahead of time, with the meal served Thanksgiving Day from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Counting the meals to be delivered, the organization fed about 300 people Thursday.

It's all done through donations of time, food and money.

"We have many businesses and individuals dropping things off, and most of them don't want to be recognized," said Major Sharon Whispell, Tamaqua Salvation Army, Broad Street in Tamaqua. "We have a loyal group of volunteers, about fifty, helping in any way that's needed."

For example, people from the Salvation Army's senior group made decorations for the tables, such as centerpieces and napkin holders. Others cut up pies and cakes, placing pieces on individual dessert plates. Wednesday evening, volunteers laid the place settings for about 30 tables. Still another volunteer group are drivers, who will deliver meals to those who can't make it into the downtown.

One of the volunteers is Larry Hosler of Tamaqua, who prepared all 20 turkeys for baking and also peeled and cut up potatoes. He started Wednesday morning, getting eight turkeys into the ovens at a time and staying until 8 pm, until all the turkeys had been cooked and carved.

Nate Starrett of Palmerton, and Gage Dietz of Lehighton, both 13, helped prepare the meals packaged for delivery and load them into vehicles. Whispell said that meals would be delivered to about 75 households, including 50 in Tamaqua.

Starrett said that his family (parents John and Jill, along with Jack and Mia, his brother and sister) began volunteering for the Thanksgiving dinner last year.

"Last year was the first time we did it, and we liked it so much we decided to do it again," he said, as he and Gage loaded packaged meals into the car of volunteer driver Cheryl Greaser of Tamaqua. "It's important, because some people can't have Thanksgiving, because they don't have enough money."

"Every year our family would have a debate about where to have Thanksgiving," Nate's mother, Jill Starrett said. "Now, we've decided to have it on Friday, and that's become our family tradition."

Gage Dietz said that although he and his family had to get up early on a day that wasn't a school day, he didn't mind.

"This is more important than shopping," Dietz said. "This is helping people."