Those who have run out of chances were offered a rare opportunity to enjoy a special gourmet holiday meal on the day before Thanksgiving.
The annual event was sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank and the Los Angeles Mission on 5th Street in front of the Mission. This epicurean effort comes from a selfless group of LA’s top chefs (led by Chef Michael Voltaggio, chef/owner of ink.) working on site along with the Mission’s own kitchen staff.
At the sit-down midday meal, thousands enjoyed a unique dining experience of newly created recipes served up by celebrities and political leaders.
The Los Angeles Mission welcomed its Skid Row neighbors to celebrate Thanksgiving with Mission friends and supporters who have a heart for helping people in need. The volunteers made a real difference by helping to foster a welcoming atmosphere of love and family.
“We serve more than half a million nutritious meals all during the year, none more important than this special Thanksgiving meal,” says Herb Smith, President of the Los Angeles Mission. “We are touched that Chef Voltaggio works so tirelessly with his handpicked team of top chefs to create this unique meal. The Mission’s own kitchen staff works around the clock to help implement every aspect of our amazing meal. Every person on our staff throws themselves into making this work. The message to our guests is this: we care for you like family.”
“This day represents more than a meal to the Mission,” says Smith. "As we serve this feast, we want this experience to open up closed hearts. We are knocking on the doors of closed hearts today. We want people who are hurting to come in and share this meal with us.
“The real reason we do this? We want to help these people completely turn their lives around. We need them to understand the opportunity we offer. To fix their broken lives. The relationships we begin at events like this can be the crucial first step towards a new life. We want people who have no hope to see the hope we offer. We challenge them to move forward and decide to join our life-changing program to completely renew their lives.”
The Mission also offers services and a residential rehabilitation program for women through the Anne Douglas Center, the brainchild and endowment of Anne Douglas, wife of actor Kirk Douglas. Members of all their programs, both men and women, have the benefit of extensive professional mental health counseling through the L.A. campus of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, with additional supportive funding this year from the Goldwin Foundation.
“This is our third year working with the Los Angeles Mission. I am so inspired by the will of the community here, to come together, cook and serve those in need,” said Chef Voltaggio. “Working alongside the Los Angeles Mission staff, a great group of LA chefs and volunteers is a really fulfilling experience.”
The Mission was thrilled and excited to welcome back Wells Fargo Bank as the generous corporate sponsor of this event for the eighth year. Wells Fargo’s $50,000 donation to the Mission helps to support year round services to the homeless beyond holiday meals.
“Wells Fargo is honored to continue its support of the Los Angeles Mission’s efforts to provide food, shelter and services to those in need,” said Lisa Stevens, Wells Fargo Executive Vice President. “As an organization, we are thankful to have dedicated team members, who, each year volunteer to serve and support the many vulnerable residents of the Skid Row community. It’s important today and every day that we join together and show our appreciation and gratitude by lending a helping hand however we can, whether through financial support, in-kind donations or volunteerism. It is our hope that we can encourage other corporate leaders to join together in this effort.”
Many of the Wells Fargo executives and volunteers arrive via the company’s iconic stagecoaches to make their delivery to the Mission. The Wells Fargo stagecoach, pulled by a team of horses, drives up to the front of the Mission to unload donations of toys and goodies for the upcoming Christmas event at the Mission.
Each year, the Los Angeles Mission’s Thanksgiving event is an enormous undertaking with more than 500 staff and volunteers working for months to get everything planned, set up and ready to go. Chef Voltaggio labors for weeks with six of LA’s best chefs to create a top chef version of the ultimate comfort food for the Skid Row community.
Those talented chefs include: Suzanne Goin of A.O.C., Josiah Citrin of Melisse, Steve Samson of Sotto, Ray Garcia, formerly of FIG, and King of Cakes Duff Goldman.
This means brining and roasting more than a ton and a half of turkey breast. The menu includes: 700 pounds of a chestnut, sage and mushroom stuffing (by Steve Samson), 80 gallons of country-style turkey sausage gravy (by Michael Voltaggio), hundreds of pounds of long-cooked green beans with sage and onions (by Suzanne Goin), pecan crusted yams (by Josiah Citrin), 3500 servings of cranberry sauce (by Ray Garcia) 4000 dinner rolls (donated by King Hawaiian) and 600 pumpkin pies, topped with cinnamon pecan whipped cream (by Duff Goldman).
The meal was served on 5th Street in front of the Mission in downtown Los Angeles, the heart of Skid Row. In the closed off portion of the street, separate tents were set up for food service, foot washing and giveaways. Holiday decorations give each table in the open air dining area a happy atmosphere of Thanksgiving. Every year, well-known entertainment industry stalwarts, Hollywood celebrities and local political leaders add immeasurably to the festivities. Everyone gives their all to create a warm family atmosphere.
The Los Angeles Christian Health Centers provides foot washing and foot health examinations to nearly 400 of the day’s guests. In addition to getting their feet washed, physicians, nurses and other medical staff do minor procedures to relieve foot problems. Those with more serious health issues are referred to the clinic for appointments. The clinic partners with the Mission to provide medical services for area residents. The Los Angeles County Department of Health is also on hand to provide free flu shots and TB tests.
Key business partners and and benevolent organizations contribute much-needed elements to the event: Orora provides the cutlery, plates and napkins, Tarps Plus distributes 2,000 tarps, Kimberly Vodang, Ms. America International 2011, hands out 1200 blankets, Foundation for Kids and Mark Chow provide hands-on crafts, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians supplies turkeys while King’s Hawaiian donates dinner rolls and Bonert’s Slice of Pie donates pies.
And for the 17th year, students at Suzanne Middle School provide bags of candy that are distributed to the guests. The students collect candy on Halloween, bag it into individual servings and Mission volunteers hand it out at the event.
“We are clear-eyed about what it takes to pull off an event like this. It requires the unfailingly dependable generosity of the people of the Los Angeles area. The loyal and steady bigheartedness of area companies, individuals and groups who step up to fund the work we do. They make all the difference,” said Smith. "The need is constantly expanding. We make the most of every dollar donated by Wells Fargo. We appreciate the loyal work of many other magnanimous companies and individuals. Their efforts enable us to do more.
“We are most appreciative of in-kind gifts like food, cutlery, tarps, blankets, even flu shots, and thousands of other items. We greatly delight in the talents brought to our table by people like Michael Voltaggio and his top chefs.
“The kindness of strangers blesses our endeavors every day. This ministry’s work would not be possible without the tremendous help we receive from our city. We want to thank everyone who gives and serves to make today possible.”
The Mission was started as a soup kitchen for depression era men in 1936 78 years ago. The men who frequented the Mission back then would be genuinely surprised by the quality of the gourmet meals being served this Thanksgiving. The Mission still serves three separate meals each and every day, and provides emergency shelter, but the primary work of the Mission in 2014 is helping men and women to restore their lives and get back to the business of life.
Over the years, thousands have graduated from the program and have gone on to live productive lives off the streets. Each and every year, many Mission program alumni are among the volunteers on hand to serve and help others.