'We are family': East Bay communities serve up meals with love on Thanksgiving

ByAnser Hassan, Lena Howland via KGO logo
Friday, November 25, 2022 7:44AM
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Oakland had a number of free Thanksgiving dinners on Thursday as many volunteers gave up time with their families to serve others.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Each year, the Bay Area Rescue Mission in Richmond serves Thanksgiving lunch and dinner to those in need. But this year has been different, according to William Tate, chaplain and case manager at the rescue mission.

"Just seeing an increase of the need. There have been families, children," Tate explains.

According to Tate, this Thanksgiving they served over 300 families. But they serve more than 1,000 meals each week. And over the past year, he says he has seen an increase in those seeking services.

"One of my favorite things to say is, 'Life has a way of lifting us.' Even though it doesn't make any sense in the world, it makes all the sense in the world because we call can resonate with hardship. So, I just identify that a lot of families have experienced hardship throughout this particular year," Tate said.

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The Bay Area Rescue Mission has been providing food and shelter in the city since 1965. But Tate says the meal isn't just about the plate of food. Thanksgiving is often a time to be with family. For those who show up on Thanksgiving, it may be the closest they will get to a sense of belonging.

"Just the relationship aspect. The communal aspect. Building rapport with those who feel disenfranchised, the downtrodden. Just to be able to give a warm embrace, a warm smile. Again, just to show the love," says Tate.

"All the homeless people. They come here and eat in droves!" Mark Daniels, lead residential assistant at the rescue mission said.

He says Thanksgiving a big event for them given the holiday tradition. But like the others, he emphasizes how this goes beyond feeding those who are hungry on Thanksgiving.

"We are family. We are a family right here in the center of Richmond," says Daniels.

VIDEO: How Oakland ensures no one goes hungry on Thanksgiving

People in Oakland had a number of free community Thanksgiving dinners to choose from this holiday.

The turkeys are prepped, the gravy is hot and eager hungry bellies are ready, lined up around the block.

"Often, this is a great way to spend at least part of your Thanksgiving," Tom Huetteman, a senior member of Lake Merritt Methodist Church said.

Huetteman has been coming to Lake Merritt Methodist Church for three decades, the same amount of time this church has given back to Oakland every turkey day.

He says the line of people waiting for food tells a much bigger story about the need in Oakland.

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"What you probably see out there is a lot of elders in our community, they live nearby in some senior housing and they're struggling paycheck to paycheck, and so these meals and the groceries we provide are critical help to make ends meet," he said.

Senior Richard Greenlaw lives alone and isn't in a position to cook a full turkey dinner to himself.

"It isn't the food, it's the people, food is everywhere, it's the people," Greenlaw said. "You get that good energy, and that is so important, so important because right now, I have PTSD and I'm having nothing but trouble, I almost had a grease fire in the house the other day."

But none of these to-go meals would be possible without the hard-working volunteers that have given up time with their own families to serve others this Thanksgiving.

"It is about family and this is about a bigger family than my own family," Sunae Cho, the lead pastor at Lake Merritt Methodist Church said.

VIDEO: An alternative Thanksgiving: Bay Area celebrates the holiday in their unique ways

Meanwhile, Two Star Market, which is owned and operated by four brothers, is celebrating their 20th annual Thanksgiving community dinner.

"It stems from our holiday month of Ramadan and we wanted to use, capitalize on Thanksgiving day - the spirit of giving back and we use this day to give back to the community," Farouq Alawei, co-owner of Two Star Market said. "If it wasn't for the community, we wouldn't be here."

A welcome, warm meal for Patrice Williams who has been coming to this community dinner for nearly 20 years.

"I didn't have anywhere else to go during this Thanksgiving," Williams said.

Just looking for a little relief from inflation, which has hit her family hard.

"They're so generous, they obviously know what low income people are going through when they don't have the money to spend on a big Thanksgiving feast for their family," she said.

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