6:50 am | November 25, 2016
Some donning in hairnets, gloves and welcoming smiles, hundreds of volunteers served warm holiday meals to all who came hungry to Pasadena’s Central Park on Thanksgiving Day, keeping vibrant and festive a 46-year Pasadena tradition. About 2,000 were served.
Over 2,000 homeless individuals enjoyed free hot Thanksgiving meals Thursday when Union Station Homeless Services and their partners – and hundreds of volunteers from the community – served its 46th annual Dinner in the Park in Pasadena’s Central Park.
“Dinner in the Park” is the Union Station’s Thanksgiving food drive that doesn’t just accept food donations – it also provides home-style traditional holiday hot meals for the local homeless population on Thanksgiving Day. Union Station volunteers also serve free dinners on Christmas in the Union Station Adult Center.
At least two days before the event, volunteers prepped about 250 turkeys at Centerplate, which provides food and beverage services for the Pasadena Convention Center, as donations of canned food and other items – bottled water, instant mashed potatoes, pot holders and kitchen towels – continued to arrive at the Union Station Homeless Services office for the event. Even on Thursday morning, bagged salad, pies, and cooked food were donated by community members.
The event ran from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a food distribution point at the corner of Del Mar Blvd. and Fair Oaks Avenue.
Union Station’s Director of Volunteer and Community Programs Stephanie Harris said the number of volunteers registering online was simply so overwhelming that the group’s website crashed; the volunteer count reached maximum capacity with over 600 community volunteers willing to spend their holidays helping others.
“The event has really come to be a well-oiled machine,” Harris said. “It’s a healthy mix of new and returning volunteers who are really the backbone for making this event as successful as it’s been for the last 46 years.”
Union Station’s new CEO, John Brauer, and members of the executive staff were on overseeing the event.
“It’s just a beautiful day out here and just a nice way to bring in the whole community together to serve folks that might not always have a Thanksgiving Dinner,” Brauer said.
Majority of the food for the event was donated by the community and institutional partners who have been support Dinner in the Park for several years. As much as $10,000 worth of meals are served during the event.
Pasadena City Mayor Terry Tornek also volunteered time at the event to serve the homeless.
“This is a perfect illustration of what happens in Pasadena,” Tornek said. The City recognizes the needs of our citizens but can’t always fulfill all of those needs,but we rely on organizations like Union Station to have this kind of event to make sure that neighbors can help neighbors. And it’s the spirit of volunteerism, the institutional presence, the people who contributed to this, and all the hundreds of people that show up to serve is a classic example of what I think Pasadena is best.”
CEO Brauer said he is fairly new to the community but looks at the event, and the upcoming Christmas dinner next month, as a great equalizer where the homeless would also feel that people care for them and consider them as part of the bigger community.
“I’m so impressed by both the support and the camaraderie,” Brauer said. “The folks that are coming out here today, it’s just amazing to see how many people that I talked to that said they’ve done this for 10 years or 15 years and they look forward to it every year.”