Union Station Foundation anticipates that it will serve nearly 5,000 meals at its annual Thanksgiving Dinner-in-the-Park. Held at Central Park in Pasadena on Thanksgiving Day, this community potluck provides a delicious meal and holiday cheer to all in attendance, including homeless men, women and children, senior citizens and families on limited incomes.
Rico Cruz is a graduate of Union Station’s shelter program and remembers his first Thanksgiving Dinner-in-the-Park thirteen years ago. “I was hopeless then and completely demoralized. I saw the numbers of people lined up to eat, the hundreds of volunteers lined up to serve, and the cars lined up to drop off food. This was the biggest outpouring of generosity I had ever seen; all of a sudden my problems didn’t seem so big and I felt glad to be right where I was.” Rico has made the most of the help he received at Union Station those many years ago. He was recently promoted to Associate Administrator of the Antelope Valley Rehabilitation Center, where he helps others struggling to overcome addiction.
Rico, along with many other dedicated volunteers, makes the trek every year to Pasadena on Thanksgiving. He can be found carving turkeys and overseeing volunteers in the huge makeshift kitchen that is set up in Central Park. “It is heartening for me to come out to Union Station’s Thanksgiving event because everyone here really does give thanks, and it shows. Especially those of us who are now on the other side of the table – fortunate enough to be volunteers instead of patrons.”
The success of Union Station’s Dinners-in-the-Park relies largely on the donations of prepared food delivered to the park on Thanksgiving Day. Starting just after 9:00 AM, a steady stream of cars will begin dropping off food donations on the Fair Oaks/Del Mar corner of the park. Volunteers wait smiling and ready to accept the donations from the cars and bring the food to the “kitchen.” One of the greeters from last year’s event commented, “This is the best part of my Thanksgiving. Everyone is happy to be helping out. There are those who arrived at dawn to set up the tables. And there are the people who always double the amount of food they would prepare for their own families to drop-off at the park. There are volunteers serving as waiters, delivering heaping plates of food to the elderly and disabled patrons who cannot stand in line on their own. Everybody has a place at Dinner in-the-Park, and what is so special is that their involvement really matters.”
Union Station will also host Christmas Dinner-in-the-Park on Christmas Day. Over 3,000 meals will likely be served and nearly 1,000 children and teenagers will receive new toys and gifts. In addition to food donations, Union Station is gratefully accepting financial contributions to offset the costs of both events. Donations are tax-deductible and may be sent payable to Union Station Foundation, 412 S. Raymond Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91105.
Rico Cruz attends every Dinner-in-the-Park because he has made a lifetime commitment. “My year is not complete unless I’m there. I wouldn’t have a life if it weren’t for Union Station. The staff and volunteers opened their arms to me and it’s an honor and a privilege for me to give back whenever and wherever I can.”
Founded in 1973, Union Station Foundation is one of the largest private agencies serving the poor and homeless in Pasadena and Greater Los Angeles. In addition to providing more than 120,000 meals and 21,000 nights of shelter per year, Union Station’s supportive services include career development and job placement, community healthcare, case management services, 12-step meetings, legal assistance, transitional housing and special programs for homeless families. More than 70% of Union Station clients have found stable housing after their stay with the agency.
For further information about upcoming Dinner-in-the-Park events and Union Station’s year-round programs and services for the poor and homeless, please visit their website at www.unionstationhs.org or call 626.449.4596.