BROADWAY — Fred Deni, co-owner of the Santa Monica restaurants Back on the Beach and Back on Broadway, first got the idea of hosting a charitable Thanksgiving dinner back in 1979 after noticing a homeless man scavenging for food in his restaurant’s dumpster.

Since then, each year he’s gone to work Thanksgiving day in order to treat hundreds of less fortunate locals to a home-style meal.

It started out as a service for the homeless but since 1986 has been specially prepared for senior citizens and held at Deni’s Broadway restaurant.

“It’s a lot to do with filling a holiday for someone that would be alone,” he said this week. “There’s so many single seniors who don’t have family, or are separated from their family or are just alone.”

Tickets to the dinner are available for just $2.50 though City Hall’s Senior Services Center, with 300 seniors expected to attend this year.

The nominal fee goes toward City Hall’s beverage and decorations expenses, but all of the food for a multi-course dinner is donated by the restaurant. Deni said it costs him about $2,200 to put on.

“We sell out every year,” said Adriana Torres, a senior services staff assistant. As of Friday, only about 50 tickets remained.

As the only large-scale Thanksgiving Day dinner for seniors in Santa Monica, over the years it has won over a loyal following, including a host of willing volunteers. Helpers start showing up at 9 a.m., Deni said, and student musicians from Crossroads School have been known to drop by to provide entertainment.

In a change this year, City Hall’s Human Services Department canceled its shuttle bus service to the dinner that in the past has ferried diners from the senior services building on Ocean Avenue to Back on Broadway, located at 2024 Broadway.

Robin Baerwitz Davidson, human services administrator, said the cut was a matter of simple economics: Last year, the bus service cost about $650 and transported just 20 of the more than 280 seniors who attended the event, she said.

Seniors are advised to take Big Blue Bus lines 1 or 5, which have stops roughly one block from the restaurant.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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