PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — It’s a tradition more than 50 years strong.

South Side Mission in Peoria provided more than 2,000 meals to the community on Thanksgiving. Hundreds of families pick up their meals on Thursday morning, while other meals were delivered by volunteers.

“We have been doing this for quite a while… It’s just a nice meal. They can actually reheat it, just put it in the microwave. So we made it friendly for seniors and those that don’t really have a lot of people around helping them. Awesome time, awesome meal,” said Rev. Craig Williams, executive director of South Side Mission.”

South Side Mission board member Ron Wyatt has been delivering meals on Thanksgiving for 18 years. He said the sense of fulfillment is indescribable.

“Just to be able to share with those people that may not have loved ones. You’re able to communicate with them, give them words of hope and share your thanksgiving with them,” he said.

Wyatt’s fiancé Alisha Hodge has been volunteering at South Side Mission on Thanksgiving for five years. In fact, it was one of the couple’s first dates.

“This was one of the first things he invited me to do when we first started seeing each other. It’s become a tradition,” she said.

Hodge said community service is important.

“It just gives you this sense of gratefulness and gratitude. Just to be able to see people when you got to the community and their smiles – they’re so excited when they get their meal. It’s a full meal, its good food and you know, it just feels good to be out,” she said. “We ran across several people today who were ill, who had just gotten out of the hospital. So they weren’t going to be able to cook a full meal and be out and about. So it feels great to just be of service.”

Rev. Williams said there were more than 300 volunteers, and that number grows each year

“It’s awesome. It offers a ray of hope to us that people are still wanting to serve in our community. People know that it still means more to give than receive… It’s awesome to watch it grow and expand,” he said.

In the afternoon, the nonprofit hosted a buffet-style Thanksgiving dinner.

Rev. Williams said South Side Mission also provides meals for Christmas.

“We’re going to do it again Christmas, so buckle up! And we’ll be at this again on Christmas Day. We’ll do the same thing and we’ll love on our neighbors again,” he said.