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Rose Park native and PGA star Tony Finau returns to his hometown to serve Thanksgiving dinner

SALT LAKE CITY — Karla Castanon and her family sat at a table in a back corner of the Utah State Fair Park's Grand Building savoring something they've never had.

"It's the first time the three of us have had Thanksgiving dinner together," said Castanon, who sat between her husband, Ephraim Marmolejo, and 7-year-old daughter Valeria. "We've never had Thanksgiving dinner together because of his work schedule."

Their first family Thanksgiving dinner came courtesy of a man they didn't know — professional golfer Tony Finau.

The father of four finished the 2018 PGA Tour season ranked sixth, after finishing 10th in the 2018 Masters and fifth in the U.S. Open. Tuesday night, he returned to his hometown of Rose Park, teaming up with Traeger Grills, prepared to provide free smoked turkey dinner with all the trimmings for up to 1,000 people Tuesday night.

PGA Tour star Tony Finau visits with Carlos and Tina Franco and their family as they attend an event hosted by Finau and Traeger Grills, where a hot Thanksgiving meal was provided for 1,000 Salt Lake individuals and families at the Utah State Fair Park in
PGA Tour star Tony Finau visits with Carlos and Tina Franco and their family as they attend an event hosted by Finau and Traeger Grills, where a hot Thanksgiving meal was provided for 1,000 Salt Lake individuals and families at the Utah State Fair Park in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. The event was the culmination of the #TonysTurkeys social campaign. Finau challenged others through the campaign to help someone in need.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

The Tony Finau Foundation contacted local religious leaders and school administrators asking them to invite residents to the event.

Volunteers from several companies served the families while country music played in the background and children played in the spacious building.

"Rose Park is a community I'm very proud to be from," Finau said. "To be able to bring the community together is pretty cool."

Finau said he and his foundation hoped to ease the pressures of the Thanksgiving holiday that some families feel when they handed out 100 frozen turkeys with sides last year. The experience was both simple and profound for the rising star, and he said it changed his perspective on a holiday that centers on family gatherings.

"It has changed what it means to give back," he said after signing autographed photos that would be offered to those who attended. "It's a privilege to be in a position to give back, and one that I take pretty seriously because I know what it's like … to be less fortunate, to be less privileged."

PGA Tour star Tony Finau passes out hats as he partners with Traeger Grills to provide a hot Thanksgiving meal for 1,000 Salt Lake individuals and families at the Utah State Fair Park in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.  The event was the culmina
PGA Tour star Tony Finau passes out hats as he partners with Traeger Grills to provide a hot Thanksgiving meal for 1,000 Salt Lake individuals and families at the Utah State Fair Park in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. The event was the culmination of the #TonysTurkeys social campaign. Finau challenged others through the campaign to help someone in need.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Finau said his family may have been among those attending an event like the one he hosted Tuesday.

"We were on the struggling part of finances," he said. "During the holidays, if I got a present under the tree, it made my year." He said there are a lot of families that could use just a little help or an opportunity to gather and enjoy a meal together without worry about what it costs.

"There is a lot of need here," he said. "A lot of things I can help with. I grew up in an area that was a little troubled with some gangs and different things … but it was an incredible place to grow up, very family oriented, and a lot of great people. I never lose sight of that."

Many of the families who still live in his hometown are as proud of him and his accomplishments as he is of his roots.

"We always watch when he golfs," said Carlos Franco, who attended the dinner with his wife, Tina, their three children and three grandchildren.

Adds Tina Franco, "We're fans. We follow him." She called the dinner a "big deal."

Both Tina Franco and her daughter, Jovalee Lucero, said they've attended assemblies at local schools where Finau speaks to the children and signs autographs.

The mother then added, "He's willing to give back, and we really appreciate that. We're really proud of this fact, of what he has done and what he's accomplished."

As Finau enjoyed dinner with his own family, families trickled in to enjoy the seasoned turkey, potatoes and vegetables. Finau said the ability to return the love and support he's felt form his hometown is something for which he's deeply grateful.

"To be able to see the faces of the people," he said, "to see how extremely grateful they were, it was all I needed."