Pasadena Star News
By Thomas Himes, Staff Writer
Pasadena Star News
PASADENA – The privileged and poor alike broke bread Thursday at Union Station’s Dinner in the Park.
Some 2,000 volunteers turned out at Central Park to help serve, eat and socialize amid more than 6,000 turkey dinners.
“People I know who have a home but live alone have come here to eat dinner for years,” said James Hart, a member of the Union Station Board of Directors. “I’m a big advocate of mixed-demographic living and people of different incomes enjoying the same benefits.”
For the first year in the event’s more than 30-year history, attendees didn’t have to wait in buffet-style lines. They were served their meals.
“We really want to make people feel like they’ve been invited into someone’s home,” said Lauren Arant, Union Station’s assistant director of development.
The dinner was better than a home-cooked meal for Pasadena resident and producer of HBO’s “Tales From The Crypt,” Ramon Sanchez.
“It didn’t occur to me until after I was sitting at the table with my second meal that I could I get a third,” Sanchez said. “I couldn’t get a third meal if I wanted to at home.”
While he enjoyed the pumpkin pie, Sanchez said he found more nourishment in his dinner companions.
“I’ve donated to Union Station and never really knew where the money went,” Sanchez said. “Now that I see all of these children and families out here I know where it went.”
Gabriel Vasquez brought his three kids to eat dinner in the park, after a lack of gas money prevented him from driving to his mother’s home in Arizona.
“I was hoping to get my unemployment in time to go to my mom’s house,” Vasquez said. “But this is great. It really helps out, and the kids like seeing all the people.”
There were plenty of people and plenty of volunteers to put to work. Although 2,000 volunteers registered in advance, hundreds more caught the Thanksgiving spirit without notice. Photo Gallery
“We’ve had to turn volunteers away,” Shirley Schumacher, event committee member, said. “It’s a tough economy, and people feel compelled to help out.”
Rudy Manning, 35, of Monrovia was one of the spontaneous volunteers event staff handed a trash bag to, instead of turning away.
“I’ve always wanted to come down for Thanksgiving and help out my community and people in need,” Manning said. “In the past couple of years, people have really struggled, so I thought it was more important now than ever.”
Organizers touted the dinner as “The Biggest Potluck in the Nation.” That description became a little too appropriate, perhaps, when a Wednesday night cancellation left organizers scrambling to cook 80 turkeys.
“We had a turkey-emergency bulletin go out,” Arant said. “Everyone had to pitch in and pull together.”
The turkeys were cooked in time, and the dinner left everyone full with food and a sense of community.
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