Despite the economy, joblessness and even homelessness, Skid Row residents received something special on Thanksgiving eve, a gourmet meal served by some of the best known people in the community.
Chef Roy Choi, best known for the KOGI BBQ Truck (and voted “Best New Chef” by Food & Wine in 2010) joined Chris Cormier and the Los Angeles Mission kitchen crew and put a gourmet twist on the traditional holiday fare. Named “Servin’ Up Hope for the Holidays” there were new recipes introduced, and actors Zoe Saldana, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Blair Underwood – as well as Kim Kardashian – chopped, mixed and prepared some of the food served.
Wells Fargo Bank sponsored the event and made a donation to support the work of the Mission.
“It’s heartbreaking to talk to men and women who have lost everything because of the bad economy, or because of bad decisions,” said Herb Smith, President of the Los Angeles Mission. “It really doesn’t matter what happened to make them homeless, what matters is how to solve the issues and restore their lives. That’s what the Mission is about 24-7, 365 days a year. Thanksgiving is special because of the wonderful meal and the celebration aspects, but in reality we help people every day with emergency services and the long-term help regain their dignity and productivity.”
“This is the time of year to count blessings and share them with others,” said hosts Kirk and Anne Douglas. “We love starting the holidays with our friends at the Los Angeles Mission. It has become one of our cherished traditions.”
The Anne Douglas Center at the Los Angeles Mission was founded and is still generously supported by Kirk and Anne Douglas. The center is a vital part of the Mission’s work.
Skid Row residents don’t often see a four-in-hand stagecoach on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, but Wells Fargo Bank brought its historic stage full of donations collected by volunteers from the company. Nearly 200 Wells Fargo staff members joined in serving the meal, as well as underwriting the cost of the event. Mission President Smith thanked Wells Fargo executives for the generous support.
“Wells Fargo is privileged to once again be a part of today’s Thanksgiving event at the Los Angeles Mission,” said John Sotoodeh, Wells Fargo president of the L.A./Orange County Regional Bank. “The last couple of years have been extraordinarily difficult times for our communities. We hope to encourage other corporate leaders to join together with organizations like the Los Angeles Mission in providing food, shelter and services to the most vulnerable members of our communities.”
The kitchen and staff started early Wednesday putting the final touches on the meal.
Chef Chris Cormier and guest chef Choi lead the teams in getting the elements of a traditional meal with some decidedly non-traditional additions. There was the 3,000 pounds of turkey, 700 pounds of mashed potatoes, 80 gallons of giblet gravy, 800 pounds of fresh green beans, 300 pounds of cranberry relish, 3,500 dinner rolls and 600 pies prepared and delivered hot and tasty to the hungry guests.
“This whole thing with a chef cooking at the 75th Anniversary of the Los Angeles Mission is not about me. It’s not about being PC or doing the right thing. This is not about image,” said Chef Choi. “This is not even about what many call ‘homeless’. This is about people, our brothers and sisters who I love dearly.”
“The only thing I know how to do is cook,” continued Choi. “Before I found food, I found the streets of Hollywood as a youth running away from home and rules I didn’t understand.”
“The Los Angeles Mission has been doing this for 75 years putting clothes on our residents’ backs. When they asked me what I was doing on Thanksgiving, I said nothing. Then they asked if I could cook for their guests and I said, ‘Fo sho’.”
City Council member Jan Perry and several members of her staff were in the kitchen early Wednesday morning helping with the food preparation. They also served breakfast to the overnight guests and Mission residents.
At 6 AM, Fifth Street from Wall Street to San Pedro was closed to vehicular traffic. That was followed by the rapid deliver and set up of tents, chairs and tables. By 9 AM the entire scene was decorated for the festivities. There was the giant balloon arch at Fifth and Wall to floral centerpieces and tablecloths on the dozens of tables. All to demonstrate the respect and love the Mission staff and volunteers have for the guests.
The foot washing tent draws hundreds of the Mission’s guests. Foot problems are common among the homeless, and often go undetected. Physicians, nurses and volunteers from the Los Angeles Christian Health Centers (formerly the Los Angeles Mission Community Clinic) provided this special treat. Clinic officials offer examinations and evaluations, and even do minor procedures that make guests more comfortable.
Donations from a variety of businesses and organizations made the event possible. The Morongo Tribe of Mission Indians donated turkey, U. S. Foods donated meal elements, Tarps Plus donated the tarps for distribution, Ms. America International Kimberly VoDang donated blankets, PCL Construction donated cash, Bonert’s Slice of Pie donated dessert, Landsberg Amcor donated cutlery and napkins.
For the tenth year, bags of candy for everyone were donated by students at the Suzanne Middle School in Walnut. The students collected leftover Halloween candy, and bagged it up for distribution. 5,000 bags totaling over 1,000 pounds of candy made it into the hands of young and older guests.
“Obviously this is a broad effort by many in the community to make a difference in the lives of the homeless on Skid Row,” Smith said. “We are very grateful for the work so many have done, as well as financial donations. If you want to help, go to our website – www.losangelesmission.org – and make a donation or fill out a volunteer form.”
For 75 years, the Los Angeles Mission has served the people of Skid Row, providing emergency services such as shelter, food, clothing, as well as professional medical and dental services. In addition, the Los Angeles Mission also offers long-term residential rehabilitation programs including education, job training/placement, transitional housing and counseling. For additional information about the Los Angeles Mission go to www.losangelesmission.org.