Thanksgiving for homeless in Pasadena’s Central Park about more than just a meal (Pasadena Star-News)

Union Station Homeless Services serves its annual Thanksgiving dinner in Pasadena Central Park Nov. 24, 2016. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb, SGV Tribune/ SCNG)

By Christopher Yee, Pasadena Star-News
POSTED: 11/24/16, 8:26 PM PST | UPDATED: ON 11/25/2016 0 COMMENTS

PASADENA >> Full from her Thanksgiving meal in Central Park, Gina Quiroz was chatting with all the strangers around her.

Despite being in poor health, Quiroz made her way from the room she rents in South Central Los Angeles to Pasadena so she could spend the holiday surrounded by people.

“I spend a lot of time in parks, and it’s nice to have a nice meal in a safe park like this one,” Quiroz said.

Quiroz was one of about 2,000 people who were treated to a free traditional Thanksgiving meal at Union Station Homeless Services’ 46th annual Dinner in the Park.

While Union Station typically feeds about 100,000 people every year across its facilities in the Pasadena area, the Thanksgiving event draws the most people at one time, said Dana Bean, Union Station’s director of development. The lunchtime event is so big that it brings together about 800 volunteers to help serve food, clear dishes and provide information about services, Bean said.

“Our efforts year-round wouldn’t be possible without everyone’s help, but on this day every year it’s so visceral to see everyone serving all at once,” Bean said. “It makes everyone proud to be a part of it.”

Sam Narvell had been looking to start volunteering, and a friend recruited him for the Dinner in the Park. The midcity Los Angeles resident said he’d like to bring his girlfriend and her two children next year.

“It’s definitely a more productive use of my day instead of watching TV and eating all day,” Narvell said with a laugh. “It’s been really nice because everyone is so appreciative.”

In addition to all of the help from volunteers, about 200 turkeys were donated by local grocery stores, canned goods were donated via an online drive and Union Station received donations from HomeStreet Bank, Goldstar Events and the Nakao Foundation. In addition, Centerplate, the food and beverage provider for the Pasadena Convention Center and Civic Auditorium, cooked all of the turkeys.

However, one area that Union Station could use more help in is finding affordable housing for those who receive services, Bean said.

The city of Los Angeles earlier this month passed Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure that will help fund homeless services and the creation of about 13,000 housing units.

Pasadena could benefit from a similar measure, Bean said. Some of Union Station’s clients have housing vouchers in hand but can’t find anywhere to use them, she said.

“A local measure to support the building of more housing, especially affordable housing, is something we vitally need,” Bean said.

Quiroz didn’t know about Union Station’s services until Thursday’s event, but she said she would speak to staff members because her housing situation wasn’t ideal.

“It’s just a little space in a house, but it’s only $300 per month,” Quiroz said. “I hope there’s something better out there, but I don’t know.”

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