Bittersweet End to a Pasadena Thanksgiving Tradition (Pasadena Now)

Mayor Bill Bogaard said Wednesday evening that although “disappointed” he is in total agreement with a Pasadena Health Dept. ruling that bans donations of home-prepared foods for today’s Union Station Dinner-in-the-Park and ends a cherished Pasadena tradition.

“What it does,” said Union Station Homeless Services CEO Rabbi Marvin Gross, “is remove the very integral aspect of this event that’s actually going on for 41 years at Central Park — that integral aspect in which people give from their heart, give from their kitchen and help to feed people who are hungry and homeless, and that’s something that’s really unfortunate if it no longer can be part of that event.”

Monday, Union Station shocked many when it announced that “due to stricter Health Department regulations” it could no longer accept home-cooked food donations for its four-decades-running Thanksgiving Day event which serves thousands of needy people and families.

This year’s service is expected to feed over 4,000.

A key component of the event traditionally has been an outpouring of home-cooked food contributions by area residents who drive by the park and hand off tins and platters to volunteers.

Reaction was swift earlier this week as hundreds registered dismay and anger in calls and emails.

“This is one of the true holiday traditions that has not gotten mucked up by the forces that tend to do that, so, when I received this email from Union Station Homeless Services, I was shocked and then furious,” Pasadenan Susan Osen wrote in an email.

“I am disappointed because I treasure the generosity of the people of Pasadena and I am strongly supportive of every opportunity to contribute to the needs that exist,” Bogaard said.

“I’m hoping that they will be understanding as disappointing as it is to all of us, that this is what the law requires and the city’s failure to act on that once it’s fully appreciated at City Hall would not only be the subject of intense criticism from the public, should anyone turn out to be made ill by the dinner tomorrow, but it would extend liability to the city for its failure to act conveying the requirements of the law,” he said.

The mayor said that “if the law really is clear and strict” the city has no choice but to comply.

A source said that the Mayor spent much of Wednesday exploring alternatives which might lead to a resolution complying with health laws but in the end none was found.

The Mayor suggested that those who traditionally donated home-cooked foods could consider alternative avenues for participation.

“They could contribute financially or food products that are commercially prepared and packaged, or of course they could be among those like myself who will be at Union Station tomorrow serving the guests who come,” he said.

Both Mayor Bogaard and Rabbi Gross pointed out that Union Station has made up for the expected shortfall of food donations by securing additional donations from Health dept.-approved sources.

“No one will go hungry at the event tomorrow,” Bogaard said, “since the home-prepared food is only a part and it’s frankly a small part of the total food supply that is served to the 4,000 or 5,000 guests at Central Park on Thanksgiving.”


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