Monkey's Tail gives hundreds of free Thanksgiving meals away every year

The Lindale Park bar is continuing its holiday tradition this season, distributing food to Houstonians in need.

Julissa Robles hands out free Thanksgiving meals at Monkey's Tail in Houston.

Julissa Robles hands out free Thanksgiving meals at Monkey's Tail in Houston.

Dylan McEwan

On Thanksgiving morning, for the third year in a row, Lindale Park bar Monkey's Tail will hand out 500 Thanksgiving meals for free to Houstonians in need.

Each meal comes with the classics: fried turkey, both dark and white meat; garlic mashed potatoes; roasted Brussels sprout, bacon and sweet potato hash; green bean casserole; cornbread stuffing; a dinner roll; a chocolate chip cookie; turkey gravy and cranberry sauce. The meals will be served chilled and include instructions for reheating at home.

Monkey's Tail donates free Thanksgiving meals every year.

Monkey's Tail donates free Thanksgiving meals every year.

Monkey's Tail
For the third year in a row, Monkey's Tail in Houston is giving away free Thanksgiving meals to those in need.

For the third year in a row, Monkey's Tail in Houston is giving away free Thanksgiving meals to those in need.

Dylan McEwan
Every year, Monkey's Tail gives away free Thanksgiving meals to those in need. (Photos courtesy of Monkey's Tail, left, and by Dylan McEwan, right)

The now-tradition started in 2020 when Monkey's Tail owners Jesus Gonzales, Elaine Collum and Steven Ripley saw a need during the pandemic, which they later realized they could continue to fill at the bar way beyond the crisis.

"We did some HISD meals during that first year, and then we did some for those in the service industry, like meals for staff who were out of jobs at the time," director of operations Ripley said. "And then Thanksgiving came around. We felt like there was a need for families who were not privileged enough to keep a job at that point. We didn't want that to ruin Thanksgiving by [them] not having anything."

Andy Maurer and Lainey Collum prepare for Monkey Tail's free Thanksgiving meal giveaway in November 2021.

Andy Maurer and Lainey Collum prepare for Monkey Tail's free Thanksgiving meal giveaway in November 2021.

Dylan McEwan
Domingo Sapon prepares for Monkey Tail's free Thanksgiving meal giveaway in November 2021.

Domingo Sapon prepares for Monkey Tail's free Thanksgiving meal giveaway in November 2021.

Dylan McEwan
Julissa Robles, Josh Vanvalkenburg and Damaris Perez prepare for Monkey Tail's free Thanksgiving meal giveaway in November 2021.

Julissa Robles, Josh Vanvalkenburg and Damaris Perez prepare for Monkey Tail's free Thanksgiving meal giveaway in November 2021.

Dylan McEwan
Monkey's Tail volunteers Andy Maurer and Lainey Collum (left), Domingo Sapon (top right), Julissa Robles, Josh Vanvalkenburg and Damaris Perez (bottom right) give out free Thanksgiving meals in November 2021. (Photos by Dylan McEwan)

Monkey's Tail gave out 500 meals in 2020. The next year, they donated 600 meals, and they're continuing with another 500 for 2022. Ripley says they're not planning on stopping the tradition, even as the pandemic has waned.

"We're continuing for multiple reasons," Ripley said. "One: It's Thanksgiving. It's about giving back to the community as well. And we've always been trying to do as much as we can. Now it's just becoming more of a tradition. I don't think there's a specific reason why we would stop."

Anyone who would like to pick up meals for the holiday can visit the makeshift drive-thru at Monkey's Tail entering from Eleanor Street, on Nov. 24 between 10 a.m. and noon. Meals will be first come, first served, and each driver only needs to tell staff how many meals are needed.

Amigos Meats is donating 600 pounds of turkey to the cause, Sysco is sponsoring other needed ingredients, and IKON Environmental Solutions, Gonzalez's other company, is donating to pay for the extra labor needed.

Amigos Meats is donating 600 pounds of turkey to the 2022 Thanksgiving meal giveaway at Monkey's Tail.

Amigos Meats is donating 600 pounds of turkey to the 2022 Thanksgiving meal giveaway at Monkey's Tail.

Dylan McEwan

It's no small feat putting together hundreds of meals. Ripley says eight employees will prep and cook all the food in the admittedly "very small" Monkey's Tail kitchen before Thanksgiving. Each turkey will be broken down, brined, and individually fried as the staff also puts together side dishes. It's a lot of work, but Ripley says it's well worth it.

"It means a lot that we are able to do this and we can get the resources to do this," Ripley said. "Being a neighborhood bar, I want to give back. Lindale Park is a really tight-knit community, so it's nice to be able to be a part of some of the small things they do."

More Food + Drink

The legacy of Raja Sweets, Houston's oldest Indian restaurant

When Houston gets cold, this Mexican comfort food is the answer

Katy's growing Asiatown gains famous new dim sum spot

Why a lauded barbecue joint is expanding in this Houston suburb

For more food news and features from Chron, sign up for The Feed newsletter here.