By Emanuel Parker
A couple of celebrities took time Thursday to serve food to the needy and homeless at Union Station Foundation’s annual Thanksgiving Dinner-in-the-Park, often called the “biggest potluck in the nation.”
Actor Hector Elizondo and former “Survivor Guatemala” contestant Jaime Newton donned plastic aprons and gloves and took turns serving some of the estimated 5,000 people who lined up for the Central Park feast.
Elizondo, 68, who starred in the TV series “Chicago Hope” and movies including “Pretty Woman,” “Runaway Bride” and “The Princess Diaries,” has been a Union Station Volunteer for several years.
“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “First of all, this is a collective expression to the people in need that somebody cares. It’s a reminder that somebody’s here for them. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”
Newton said he was voted off “Survivor” last week, but didn’t make it home for the holidays.
“My family is in Georgia and these people are homeless and don’t have their families, so I figured it made sense to be here.
I didn’t have anything else to do except sit in the house,” he said.
For others there was no other place to get Thanksgiving dinner.
Ernest Gordon, 58, got out of prison at the beginning of the year, stayed with relatives until April, then became homeless.
“I’m thankful for my good health,” he said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to have a chance to move ahead in life, even though I had problems in my past with substance abuse and behavior problems, mental problems.”
Kelvin McFarland 35, a Marine and Desert Storm Veteran, has completed Union Station’s 12-Step Program, attended Sources, a career training program, and is now looking for work as a medical clerk.
“I’m here to volunteer, to give back what’s been given to me so freely,” he said. “I’m thankful the Lord has allowed me to live and see one more day.”
Union Station has sponsored the Thanksgiving dinner for more than 30 years. To serve the multitude, volunteers cook more than 150 turkeys and 5,000 pounds of potatoes and also accept food donations from hundreds of local residents.
Brent Broyles of Sierra Madre showed up towing a two-wheel wagon loaded with 70 gallons of milk.
“We just purchased it,” he said. “we’ve worked here before, and at the times the kids haven’t had anything to drink. So we thought, by bringing a bunch of milk today so they don’t have to store it, the kids will have something to drink.”
Rabbi Marvin Gross, Union Station Foundation’s executive director, said it’s been a rough year for Pasadena’s needy and homeless population.
For the first time, women and children make up a majority of Pasadena’s homeless, he said.
“It’s got to do with an economy whose benefits haven’t trickled down to the lowest on the economic rung,” he said.
“We see a lot of families that have been displaced. I know that family homelessness is on the rise all over Southern California and across the country.”