Fort Carson soldiers prepping to feed hungry on Thanksgiving Day

Author: Erin Prater - November 23, 2017 - Updated: November 28, 2017

Pfc Shane Collier, center, carves a turkey in a busy prep area at Fort Carson on Wednesday, November 22, 2017. Soldiers at the fort cooked and carved 350 birds, plus sides and fixings, to help the Salvation Army feed about 3,000 people. (The Gazette, Nadav Soroker)

Arian Mercado hasn’t celebrated a Thanksgiving with his family since joining the military four years ago, yet each year he works to ensure others can sit down to a holiday meal with their loved ones.

One of Fort Carson’s culinary specialists, Mercado is helping to prepare 350 turkeys and 3,500 servings of sides for the annual Salvation Army Thanksgiving Day meal Thursday.

The meal is available to the community for free.

“I don’t get time to be with family so I don’t really celebrate,” Mercado said. “But I do these kinds of things to do what I signed up for – give back to the community.

“I don’t always have enough singles in my pockets to hand out (to people in need), but I can tell them where to get a free meal,” he said.

Mercado and 15 other culinary specialists have been working around the clock for three days to pull the meal together. They have 94 birds cooking in the oven at any given time.

The smell was mouthwatering as soldiers carved the butter-basted birds Wednesday. Staff Sgt. Marc Scozzafava shared a secret: In the six years he’s headed the mission, “These are some of the best (turkeys) I’ve tasted.”

The crew planned to work through the night to finish the sides: mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy.

Specialist Shanarica Williams’ family flew in from Alabama to celebrate the holiday with her, but as one of the volunteer cooks she says she wants to see the food delivered and devoured. She plans to be at the Salvation Army headquarters in Colorado Springs Thursday morning to eat with the community, though she will also make her favorite dish – candied yams – back at home.

She feels fortunate, she said, “being able to bless someone with the blessings that I have.”

“It’s something I really felt in my heart I should do,” Williams said.

The Salvation Army will serve holiday meals from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at four locations:

– The Salvation Army, 908 Yuma St., Colorado Springs.

– Woodland Park Church of the Nazarene, 750 N. Colorado 67, Woodland Park.

– Manitou Springs Town Hall, 606 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs.

– Fountain Valley Senior Center, 5745 Southmoor Drive, Fountain.

Those in need can go to any of the locations, walk in and say “hi, I’m here for a meal,” Scozzafava said.

Erin Prater

Erin Prater

Erin Prater is Colorado Politics' digital editor. She is a multimedia journalist with 15 years of experience writing, editing and designing for newspapers, magazines, websites and publishing houses. Her previous positions include military reporter at The Gazette, general assignment reporter at The Huerfano County (Colo.) World, copy editor at David C. Cook publishing house and adjunct mass communication instructor at Pueblo Community College. Her bylines include The New York Times Upfront, The Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Military Spouse magazine and Omaha Magazine (Omaha, Neb.). Her syndicated bylines include The Denver Post,, and wire services.