Posted in the Ventura Star – November 23, 2016 (To read entire article CLICK HERE)
It took a proverbial village, along with 375 turkeys, to feed a fresh Thanksgiving meal to 1,000 people Wednesday at the Ventura County Rescue Mission in Oxnard.
According to mission Executive Director John Saltee, only 240 volunteers could help with the 44th annual Thanksgiving feast. Otherwise, helpers would run into each other.
“We had to turn people away for today and ask them to come and help out during the holiday season,” Saltee said, adding that the mission prepares 745 meals a day — both lunch and dinner — that are served for free to anyone who is hungry.
“We need volunteers to help out Mondays through Fridays,” he said.
Preparations for Wednesday’s massive meal, which also included 500 pounds of mashed potatoes and 125 gallons of hot gravy, started two weeks ago.
“We do this because the poor don’t often have a traditional Thanksgiving. This is for the working poor as well as the homeless,” Saltee said.
Stella Castro, of Oxnard, along with her friends on the street, said she looks forward to the annual meal.
“This is our main Thanksgiving. Last year, it was so hard to find things. We want to make sure we don’t miss this,” Castro said. “I like the way it is set up. There are so many people I know here. It’s a tradition with the homeless.”
The volunteer serving crew included Ventura County Supervisors John Zaragoza and Linda Parks, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean, Oxnard Police Chief Scott Whitney and Ventura County Executive Officer Mike Powers.
Naval Base Ventura County Commanding Officer Capt. Chris Janke was also a member of the serving crew.
Janke said it is important for the base to be involved with the surrounding community.
“Oxnard is the biggest community nearby, and I’m sure there are more than a few veterans sprinkled among this group who have fallen on hard times,” said Janke, who brought his teen-age children to help serve.
Cecilio Zarate had a simple reason to attend the Thanksgiving meal.
“I’m hungry. I just enjoy coming here with all of my friends and celebrating Thanksgiving Day with my daughter here,” Zarate said.
Daughter Cynthia said they plan a traditional meal with family Thursday.
Halfway through the meal service, bags of food were distributed to anyone interested — one per family.
Saltee said organizers try to add different parts to the annual Thanksgiving meal, and this year they asked people to donate nonperishable food that families could take home to enjoy later.
Tim Garcia, who is the kitchen lead at the mission, said being part of the men’s program is offering him a future he once didn’t have.
“They changed my whole life around. My family had disowned me and I had nowhere to go,” said Garcia, who admits having a drug and alcohol problem. “I’ve learned to surrender to God and make amends to my family, which is bringing back the love in my life.”
Garcia said he plans to continue his internship with the mission kitchen, which he hopes will lead to a stint in a culinary arts program.
Sherman Forde, of Oxnard, gave the meal high marks. Each plate held turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, rolls and cranberry sauce.
“It was good. The turkey was done well,” Forde said. “I come here every day to the church in the alley.”
In addition to food, face-painting and arts and crafts for children were offered by students from Oxnard High School.
“I think this is a good idea,” student Ashley Limon said. “The community needs to help no-income families.”
As he walked among the hundreds of people sitting at dozens of tables set with cloth tablecloths, along with a harvest centerpiece, Saltee said his next improvement for the event will be to find shade structures to offer relief from the sun.