HAWAIIAN GARDENS, Calif. — COVID-19 has changed many aspects of our lives, including how we will celebrate the holidays.
While health officials have urged Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving, some do not even have enough money to buy a holiday dinner for their immediate loved ones.
The L.A. Mission has teamed with local organizations to ensure the community is still fed.
Xavier, 11, said he is spreading holiday cheer with the New Hope Community Church in Hawaiian Gardens by directing traffic as 250 families picked up Thanksgiving dinner at the church.
The smallest city in Los Angeles County is among those that have felt the biggest impact due to the pandemic. Unlike any other city in the state, more than 70% of the Hawaiian Gardens general fund comes directly from the casino that’s been shut down for most of 2020.
The closure left nearly 2,000 employees out of work. Eight months later, New Hope’s outreach coordinator, Dandy DePaula, said many are barely making it.
"The need right now, because of the closure of the casino, a lot of members of the community have lost their jobs and even the city cannot really provide some resources to the families," said DePaula.
He sees the need first hand working with major agencies to offer those resources like uniforms and books to the children in his community.
On the Friday before Thanksgiving, he gathered about 30 volunteers in a partnership with the Los Angeles Mission to ensure families in need do not go hungry on Thanksgiving.
Veronica Velazquez is grateful. For her, it is the only way to provide a holiday dinner for her family.
"It helps out a lot, not just one family member, but low income families. It helps them out a lot," said Velazquez. "Especially during the pandemic."
The L.A. Mission distributed 500 food boxes to families in Watts and in Hawaiian Gardens.
Steven Schultze, L.A. Mission’s vice president of Programs and Emergency Services, said those boxes are enough to feed 2,000 people. It is part of their commitment to feed those who have nowhere to go.
"It doesn’t matter whether we have coronavirus or not, people are hungry," Schultze said.
The drive through pick up Friday was just the first part of the L.A. Mission’s Thanksgiving that looked very different in 2020. They usually shut down 5th Street to traffic in Downtown Los Angeles, feeding thousands of people every Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
This year there is no street closure and no outdoor dining area. The traditional holiday meal will be distributed take-out style.
“We’re adapting to the current environment," Schultze explained. "We gotta understand that they’re human beings, and that they need hope. That they can get beyond their homelessness, or not having a job. Alternatively, whatever it might be, mental health, that there is hope. That there’s people in the community that believe in them.”
People in the community from all walks of life, and all ages coming together to help those less fortunate.
"We all wanted to help and give back, so I wanted to join too," Xavier said.
The same show of generosity making new traditions in unprecedented times.