It was both giving and thanks in the communities of Hemet and San Jacinto as churches, nonprofits and grateful restaurant owners provided and estimated 3,000 meals to the homeless, shut ins, seniors and the lonely on America’s truest Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24.
The largest hungry and grateful residents appeared Thursday morning at the Val Vista Assembly of God Church on East Florida Avenue for a delicious meal of turkey and all trimmings. The free Thanksgiving meal has been a Val Vista church tradition for 30 years with many of same people attending year after year. Participating in the event were more than 35 other organizations, businesses and churches.
The Thanksgiving Day visitors were greeted by the church Pastor Randy Jones, the assistant pastors and volunteers who offered a handshake and, if desired, a loving hug.
“Let’s all love on the people. Give them a loving touch, but only if they want it,” Pastor Jones explained during the volunteer orientation. “Some don’t like to be touched … Now, let’s man your battle stations.”
The nearly 300 volunteers, including the four newest Hemet and San Jacinto beauty queens, spread out in teams to serve the diners in two lines. Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, casseroles, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and all the holiday food favorites filled the plates of all those attending in the fellowship hall.
Not only did the volunteer servers dish out the meals to the people coming to the church but others like Pastor of the Nigerian Balm of Truth Church Matthew Olaniyi and his friend Dave Felix helped take tinfoil covered meals to shut ins in the area. It was one of Pastor Olaniyi’s many helpful acts he has made since earning his Ph.d. in Ministry in the United States. Olaniyi surpised other guests by wearing his traditional brightly-colored tunic and hat for Thanksgiving. The church took out 368 meals to shut ins in the Hemet and San Jacinto Valley.
Clergy of other faiths were also in attendance offering words of thanks, joy and hope to all those present.
Pleasantly surprised were the Graham brothers, Billy (not the evangelist) and David, regular Thanksgiving dinner guests, when Miss Hemet Kelsie Bohanon and Miss Hemet Jocelynn Schlieder personally served them pieces of pumpkin pie.
“We been coming here five years,” said Billy. “We wouldn’t miss it.”
Both brothers, like others enjoying the dinner who had no other family to enjoy Thanksgiving with or were without a home of their own. The Grahams said they are from San Jacinto and are now living out of their truck. They said they were very thankful for the homecooked meal and the company that day.
Miss San Jacinto Dominique Hernandez and Miss Teen San Jacinto Kaylee Morales were also seen in the serving lines helping where they could. Newly Elected Hemet City Councilwoman Karlee Meyer and other city officials attended and helped out with food serving during the afternoon. Last Year re-elected Mayor Bonnie Wright volunteered as a server.
Another free Thanksgiving dinner that afternoon was offered at the Dwelling Place Church on Girard for mainly for those homeless and needy, but others were also welcome. Not only were free turkey dinners offered the approximately 200 attending but an opportunity to get a haircut, receive a free health checkup and with the help of Project Hope, Street Soldiers were offered a “Hope” bag filled with toiletries, water, food, soap and other necessities not always available to the homeless.
Dwelling Place Pastor Bob Beckett – helping with the special Thanksgiving event – said this was the first time the dinner was being held on the church grounds. In past years, members and volunteers, not only from the Dwelling Place but from other Christian churches and faith based groups, like the Risen Kings motorcycle group in the Valley went to Hemet’s Weston Park to serve the meals and offer personal assistance to the homeless and needy. This year those from the park and other areas who wished to come to the dinner were bused to the church.
“This is just who we are as a church,” said Beckett, “It is in our DNA just to help others.”
Assistant Dwelling Place Pastor Steve Rook summed Thanksgiving up saying, “Thanksgiving is simply for our God, country and family who we should be thankful for. Every day should be a Thanksgiving Day.”
Meanwhile, those more fortunate found themselves in long lines and wait times at popular restaurants offering special Thanksgiving meals or visiting with close friends and family.
It seemed to be an especially thankful time for the thousands of Hemet and San Jacinto families knowing the economy seems to be improving, health care expanding and a promise, with the passage of Public Safety Measure U to help assure residents a safer community and seeing more and more public and private agencies seeking solutions for the growing number of homeless trying to find work and housing in the area.