Edit: An earlier version of this story stated that Rodriguez received $21,000 in cash donations. This article has been edited to reflect the true amount of donations received, $2,100.
Susan Rodriguez loves to take in members of the community who don’t have a home for Thanksgiving. This year, she and her family took in an army.
Rodriguez, an accountant at Cadden Community Management and a mother of a UA student, invited First Sgt. David Katz and his troop, consisting of 25 members, to her home for Thanksgiving.
The troops were sent last-minute to Tucson for the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border. Many of the troop members have not been home for Thanksgiving in over two years, having also served in Afghanistan last year, according to Katz.
Formation of the dinner plans
Katz and his wife Susan Katz, both UA alumni, are close friends with Rodriguez. Rodriguez invited Katz over after finding out that he would be in Tucson during Thanksgiving but did not want to leave his troops behind.
“Tell them all to come. It’s not like I haven’t done Thanksgiving for 30 before,” Rodriguez responded.
Rodriguez talked to her husband, Sal Rodriguez, who said he was on board too.
“We wanted to spend time with him, and his stipulation was that he had to bring another 25 guys with him,” Sal Rodriguez joked.
At first, Katz said he wasn’t sure.
“I get uncomfortable when I’m in uniform and people offer to buy me a cup of coffee, let alone have like 25 people in their house,” Katz said.
Eventually, Katz agreed, because he said he knew Susan Rodriguez would not take no as an answer.
“It just seemed like something we should do. I didn’t even hesitate when I thought about it,” Susan Rodriguez said.
Kacey Seeloff, Rodriguez’s daughter and a junior majoring in journalism at the UA, said her mother has always offered to take in friends who didn’t have a home for Thanksgiving.
“She was always one to just take in people,” Seeloff said. “I didn’t think she would be taking in a whole army, but that’s my mother.”
Seeloff said this year she was so inspired by her mother that last Friday night, she offered to have troop members come join “Slack Night,” a night of slack lining that she hosts at the Recreation Center weekly and made them enchiladas for dinner.
“The crazy apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” said Katz, referring to the generosity and outgoing nature of Seeloff and her mother.
Thanksgiving on base
Katz said typically on Thanksgiving, troop members would have to pay $15 per meal in the chow hall or they would find a family to have a meal with.
Many members just get used to celebrating holidays with their troop.
“It’s kind of like your surrogate family,” Katz said.
Sean Larson, 20, a troop member who works on helicopters, said when they found out they would be having Thanksgiving at Rodriguez’s home, he was certainly surprised.
"I was like, 'no way,' because we all thought we were going to miss Thanksgiving,” Larson said.
The spirit of giving
Rodriguez said they have received $2,100 in cash donations, as well as pies, gift cards and beer from friends, relatives, neighbors, Sprouts and Gentle Ben’s to host the troops.
Rodriguez said whatever donation money is left over will either be going to a fund for the troop members or to a charity of their choice. She said the troop members are here without a daily allowance from the army and they’re often paying for meals out-of-pocket.
Cienega High School and the UA Outdoor Recreation Center also lent them tables and chairs.
Sal Rodriguez said they also hosted a football game on the Cienega High School football field.
“I mean, it’s a tradition on Thanksgiving to watch football, play lots of football and eat lots of turkey,” Sal Rodriguez said.
For Susan Rodriguez, this is what the holiday is all about.
“I’m just really grateful that there are people who are willing to take a job like that, and because they’re away from their families, and so, you know, if there was something I could do to make their holiday just a little bit happier, that’s what I wanted to do,” Susan Rodriguez said.
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