Thanksgiving in a Hungry World
L.A. Convention Center Site for Army Feast for Downtown Homeless
by Beverly Ventriss –
At the Southern California Division’s inaugural event at the Los Angeles Convention Center, thousands were served a Thanksgiving meal by the mayor, celebrities–including some of the Radio City Rockettes–but nobody forgot for a moment who the focus and real stars of the evening were: the 2,000 homeless men, women and children who had come to enjoy a holiday meal and catch a little entertainment.
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan worked the room, serving meals off a large silver tray, chatting with diners as though they were guests in his home. Together with Commissioner David Edwards, the two seemed to operate as a team in the “meeting and greeting department” as they moved between tables. The Mayor spoke of the importance of assisting those in need, commenting “Nobody helps so many like The Salvation Army does.” Looking around the large convention hall, Edwards observed, “This is the ministry of The Salvation Army in action. It’s what we do.” While the Mayor and celebrities seem to be having a great time, so were the 600 wonderful volunteers who were there to lend an important hand, and a smile.
Clearly, no one had as great a time as those who had dressed up for the Thanksgiving Eve event. The opportunity of getting both a dinner and some entertainment is an uncommon proposition these days on Skid Row where 1,000 of the evening’s guests had arrived via donated buses. The second 1,000 were transported from Salvation Army programs for the homeless. But even for them, this was an event of the likes they probably had not enjoyed in many a year, if ever.
That, however, was precisely the point: To bring individuals and families to an environment that was positive, to bring in some light and heighten the hope in their lives. The concept had been discussed for several years previously. It was decided that this was the year to move the dream to reality. With a large dose of determination and hard work by many– including creative input from members of the public relations committee of the Los Angeles Metro Advisory Board–the plan took shape.
Next year the hope is to serve 1,000 more – 5,000 the year after. It’s a realistic goal. That LA Convention Center is a huge place. Throw in corporate sponsors like Bank of America, who gave $10,000, and with the continued generosity of the many others who donated goods, services or time, this event has all the earmarks of becoming the highlight of holiday seasons to come.
Director of Social Services Steve Allen, who spearheaded the team to put the event together, remarked at evening’s end, “We knew this would be a large undertaking, particularly for an inaugural event, but we had a dedicated team of staff and volunteers who saw the need, committed to the task and met the challenge.”