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Thousands Expected at Free Thanksgiving Dinners

By Phil Wayne
Lookout Staff

November 23 – More than 2,100 meals, 1,200 volunteers, 300 turkeys, two tons of clothing and countless smiles can be expected during this year's free Thanksgiving Day celebration at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

The annual dinner -- which takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday -- is one of the events that will offer food, services and holiday cheer to all, particularly the less fortunate, on Wednesday and Thanksgiving day.

Opportunities abound for those wishing to donate goods, time or services, as well for others who may simply wish to enjoy a hot turkey meal or take advantage of a variety of free services (see end of article for complete contact and location info).

"We usually get about 2,500 people" at the dinner, including volunteers, said Michele Wilson, event coordinator for the Civic Auditorium.

Turkey and pumpkin pie will be the featured items on the menu. Free services will include haircuts, basic medical consultations and eye exams, and clothing, shoes and hygiene kits will be handed out. Children's entertainment will also be provided, including a petting zoo, pony rides, an arts and crafts area, a game area, and an inflatable "jumper."

Westside Thanksgiving is coordinating activities for the Civic Auditorium event in conjunction with Vineyard Christian Fellowship Westside. They can be reached at their Volunteer Hotline, 310.394.3153, or online at www.westsidethanksgiving.org. According to the website, "The Celebration relies entirely on donations from the local community."

Lori McCreary and Tim McGrath started the annual event 22 years ago. Since then, volunteer efforts have expanded under the umbrella of Westside Thanksgiving to include many churches of varying denominations, as well as other charitable organizations, schools and corporations.

McCreary created the Westside Thanksgiving website with Jill Goularte, who serves as Volunteer Coordinator. Goularte stresses that all are welcome at the dinner, including the homeless, students, families, senior citizens or anyone who may not have other opportunities for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Families often bring their children to the auditorium on Thanksgiving Eve to paint signs for the event and "they absolutely love it!" Goularte said. "It's a great way for people to get involved (who) aren't necessarily available on Thanksgiving"

Volunteers are free to help out for as little as an hour or two, although many chose to spend the entire day. Needed volunteer activities cover a wide range, from donating turkeys to providing services such as serving meals, helping to decorate, or being a "curb runner."

Call the hotline or visit them online for a complete list of needed goods and services, or for specific instructions on how to properly cook and transport the turkeys. Deadlines for bringing in various types of food are listed at the website as well.

For those wanting to get a jump-start on festivities, St. Monica's Catholic Church will be hosting a dinner for the homeless on Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday, November 24th, from 3 to 6 p.m. They expect about 1,000 guests, said Lani Cutting, the church’s receptionist.

Those interested in donating time, food, or clothing are asked to call 310.393.9287 ext. 474. "We would be grateful for volunteers," Cutting said.

Contact numbers for Thanksgiving Day events:

Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
1855 Main Street, at Pico Blvd.
Business Office: 310.458.8551
Program Information: 310.458.2288
Michele Wilson, Event Coordinator, 458.8562

Westside Thanksgiving
Volunteer Hotline: 310.394.3153

St. Monica's Catholic Church
725 California Ave.
Santa Monica, CA
Volunteer Line: 310.393.9287 ext. 474

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