Thousands of people lined up early Thanksgiving morning at a McDonald’s in South Phoenix to enjoy an event that’s become a tradition.
For the last 21 years, Julian Nabozny, a local Catholic, has opened his restaurant to serve a free hot breakfast. So many people partake in the meal that Phoenix police close Central Avenue just north of Baseline Road.
Bundled up in coats and pushing babies and toddlers in strollers, the people lined up outside the restaurant awaiting their opportunity to step inside for orange juice, milk and pancakes, all free of charge.
Inside, dozens of volunteers in blue T-shirts passed out the food and drink, hoisting large cardboard boxes with more supplies over their heads.
Zoe Laskoskie, a senior at Chaparral High School, was there with several other volunteers unloading bottles of orange juice. The teenagers, members of the Interact service club at their school, arrived at 4:40 a.m. to unload tables as well as food from trucks.
“This is a great event. It’s so much more than I expected it to be,” Laskoskie said.
Emerson Smith, head of the counseling department at Chaparral, said he’s been volunteering at the Thanksgiving event for 15 years. He sponsors the Interact club and compared it to Rotary.
“It’s a good for these students to get out of the bubble of North Scottsdale and see what the larger community is like,” Smith said.
A Latino band entertained the crowd that sat at numerous picnic tables set out beside the restaurant. Local businesses had booths that offered free giveaways like water bottles and canvas bags.
Cristal Ortiz was there with her five children and her mother.
“We come every year. It’s become a tradition for us to be here and enjoy the event and to give thanks that our whole family can be together,” Ortiz said. The Ortiz family is Catholic, she said, but they didn’t realize Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix would be in attendance.
Jose Jorge Flores was at the McDonald’s Thanksgiving breakfast for the first time. He said he’d heard the bishop would be there. “It’s nice he’s coming,” Flores said. “That’s great.”
Mayor of Phoenix Greg Stanton as well as Chief of Phoenix Police Daniel Garcia stood on the stage set up beside the restaurant along with Nabozny, Bishop Olmsted and Phoenix City Councilman Mike Nowakowski. Bishop Olmsted addressed the crowd in English and Spanish, praying an Our Father in Spanish.
“It’s a great joy for me to be with you and to thank God for all of you and your gifts, in particular the gift of faith and for the gift of the generosity of Julian and the others who are here to celebrate this great day,” Bishop Olmsted said. “To thank God is to be a man or a woman of faith and joy….. we give thanks for what is most important in our lives, our families, our children our parents and our friends.”
Mayor Stanton thanked the bishop for his attendance at the event.
“Thank you, Bishop Olmsted, for that beautiful prayer,” Stanton said. “I know in your role you have met many generous people, but now you have met the most generous man in Phoenix, Julian Nabozny.”
The crowd erupted in applause.
“For 21 years, Julian has put on this wonderful event here at McDonald’s. This is part of a great Phoenix tradition,” Stanton said.