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Turkey Dinner Is Served Up From Heart

Times Staff Writer

Sister Mary Dominic Chacon surveyed the parish hall at Santa Rosa Church in San Fernando Thursday afternoon, a room filled with people who had found that they need not be alone on Thanksgiving Day.

“We wanted this to be a family event,” she said, pointing to tables that were mostly filled with young mothers and their children, all dining on a traditional meal of turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes and cranberries, pumpkin and pecan pie.

It was a meal, Sister Mary Dominic said, that was prepared from the heart.

Sister Mary Dominic is executive director of the Home Visitation Center of Pacoima, a social service agency affiliated with the United Way that provides shelter, counseling and food for the needy and troubled.

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A Different Story

The nun said that, on previous Thanksgivings, the center handed out food baskets or frozen turkeys but, invariably, the food would run out.

The story was different on Thursday.

“This time we thought we’d have a dinner and bring people in with their families,” she said. “We don’t have to say ‘no’ to anyone.”

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The center served up good food and company for the families, several of whom said their Thanksgiving would have been a lonelier, skimpier one otherwise. Organizers said they served about 400 people during the afternoon.

“I’m at peace and the children are eating,” said a doe-eyed 25-year-old mother of four who moved with her children to the center’s shelter last month after leaving an abusive relationship, Sister Mary Dominic explained.

‘Sad and Hell’

“Last year was very sad and hell,” the mother said as her children emptied plates full of turkey legs and sweet potatoes.

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“I’d be home without any Thanksgiving dinner without this,” added Odilly Bergua, who was flanked by her grandchildren, Efraim Velasquez, 8, and his sister, Maribel, 6.

Bergua said she was unemployed and sought out the dinner to make sure her grandchildren would enjoy the holiday with food and music.

Being at the dinner seemed important to the volunteers as well.

“I thought I’d have a real hard time eating today knowing there are people who are hungry,” said Dave McMinn, a 17-year-old high school senior from Northridge.

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McMinn, who said he would have his own Thanksgiving meal later with his family, spent the afternoon filling coffee cups and slicing pies.

Local stores contributed much of the food, Sister Mary Dominic said, and money was donated by employee groups and companies in the San Fernando Valley.

In Burbank, a similar scene unfolded.

A dozen cloth-lined tables filled the parking lot in front of H & M Deli and Sandwich Shop on West Magnolia Boulevard, where about 20 people were seated after helping themselves to a turkey-and-trimmings buffet.

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Owner Greg Bishop said it was the first time he had held a Thanksgiving dinner and that he was surprised by the offers to volunteer and the donations of money to defray expenses.

About 60 people had eaten dinner by 2 p.m., but Bishop hoped more would come.


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