WATSONVILLE — Frank Carter came to the Veterans Memorial Building in Watsonville Wednesday first and foremost for a plate loaded with a turkey lunch.

But he said what he found in addition to the food – and what he enjoyed as much – was the camaraderie.

“It’s kind of like being with my family,” he said.

And that is the spirit behind the event, which brings together mental health service providers from throughout the county, along with clients and their families.

“A lot of the clients we serve don’t have a family, they don’t have a place to go,” said Community Connection Associate Director Shawn Peterson. “This helps them see that this is their family.”

Carter joined some 500 people who were expected at the event.

The annual Thanksgiving meal is provided by South County Mental Health, the City of Watsonville, Front Street Inc., Mariposa Wellness Center and Community Connection, which is a program of Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County.

“It’s become a tradition in Watsonville,” said South County Mental Health Supervisor Alan Lamb. “We’re bringing together the wellness and recovery community.”

Nearly all the food was donated, and was cooked by staffers from the county’s various mental health programs.

Mariposa Program Coordinator Jodie Wells, who coordinated the Thanksgiving meal, said the event is a natural extension of the mental health community’s overarching mission to nurture clients.

“It’s a way to let them know that we’re all in this together,” he said. “You’re not alone.”

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