Free Thanksgiving dinner at Maria's Restaurant

Martin Morales and his wife, Maria Chavez, will host their second free Thanksgiving dinner at the couple's Hamilton restaurant. The couple have also created a pay-it-forward bulletin board where people can pay for meals for those in the community who are hungry. “We live in such an amazing place,” Chavez said. “It’s really wonderful when we can help one another.”

Maria Chavez and her husband, Martin Morales, are all about making sure that people don’t go hungry.

Last Thanksgiving — during the first year of operating Maria's, their family-run restaurant on Hamilton’s Main Street — the couple decided to provide free meals to anyone who walked through the door on the holiday.

“I didn’t really know if anyone would come,” Chavez said. “But it was something that I absolutely knew I had to do. I believe in God. … When God opens the door, you have to go for it.”

As it turned out, people did come.

There were people lined up at the door waiting for the chance to feast on turkey, ham and all the fixings, including a variety of desserts that customers had dropped off to help with the meal.

“It was kind of crazy here,” she said. “There were so many people, but I just absolutely love being able to give back. Doing something like that had been in my heart for a long time, but I never could do it because I didn’t have anything.”

The people who filled the couple’s restaurant were thankful for the food and the chance to share it with others on the holiday.

“It was a day filled with a lot of tears,” Chavez said. “I was so grateful and thankful that, of course, I wanted to do it again.”

On this Thanksgiving Day, the couple plan to offer another free Thanksgiving dinner to the community. This time around, they plan to do all the work themselves in creating the Mexican menu they'll offer to those who show up.

“If you know of anyone that does not have a place to go or a family that is having a hard time putting dinner on the table, please send them my way,” Chavez said in a handwritten note that she and others have passed around town. “No one should feel lonely during the holidays or should feel stressed out. My doors will be open to anyone in a need a meal.

“You will be welcomed with a smile and a lot of love,” she wrote. “Come join us and let’s make a lot of amazing memories.”

Unlike last year, Chavez said the couple won’t be accepting donations of food.

“This has to come from our hard work,” she said. “We are beyond grateful to God for the many blessings he has given us.”

While the couple isn’t asking for any help for themselves, they have figured out a way that people can help others who might be hungry.

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They recently started a pay-it-forward wall that offers their customers the opportunity to pay for an enchilada or a taco or maybe the special of the day and post the ticket on the bulletin board. If someone is hungry and can’t afford to pay for a meal, they can climb the flight of steps to Maria’s Restaurant and pick one of the prepaid tabs hanging on the wall and get a free meal.

“We had so many people asking us what they could do to help,” Chavez said. “We came up with this idea. It’s been really popular.”

The board is covered with prepaid tabs just waiting for people in need.

“It’s nice to know that people can now come here and get a free meal if they’re hungry,” she said. “We can even put it in a to-go box if that would make them more comfortable.”

“We live in such an amazing place,” Chavez said. “It’s really wonderful when we can help one another.”

Maria’s Restaurant at 217 Main St. in Hamilton will be open from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

“A meaningful life is not about being rich, being popular, being highly educated, or being perfect,” Chavez wrote in her note to the community. “It is about being real, being humble, being strong and being able to share ourselves and touch the lives of others.”