It was nice, surprising even, to find out that people cared.
That was the message on the lips and in the eyes of the poor and weary who shared a free Thanksgiving dinner at the Orange County Rescue Mission on Thursday. A celebration it wasn’t, but it tasted good just the same.
“I’m broke,” said one homeless man who sat hunched over a paper plate heaped with turkey, mashed potatoes, yams and cranberries. “You just can’t get food anywhere.”
Sunne Dae, coordinator of the Thanksgiving feast in Santa Ana, said he expected that volunteers at the mission would serve about 2,000 people by the end of the day, including many who would take a plate of food away with them.
Earlier in the week, the mission and other charities also delivered turkeys and food to hundreds of poor people in their homes throughout the county.
Paula Rubacava, seated with her 2-year-old son, Adolfo, on her lap, said that she only brought three of her six children to accept the mission’s offer of a free meal. The others were too embarrassed to accompany her.
“I told them, ‘You can do what you want, but I’m going,’ ” she said. “But we’ll see if we can take some food home with us for them. This feels good here. We have something to eat.”
Making people feel good, it appeared, was high on the list of the volunteers--all of them wearing “Hi. My Name Is” stickers--who treated their guests with an attitude of deference and courtesy that many seemed unaccustomed to.
Linda Alvarez, a volunteer table captain who works in a real estate office, brought her niece, 7-year-old Marissa Sepulveda, to help with whatever needed doing.
“The first people in line were five children who came alone,” Alvarez said. “We gave them plates of food to take back home.”
There was even a volunteer piano player, Danny Corona, who seized the occasion to croon a few songs that one would have expected in a Las Vegas cocktail lounge. Later, Corona was joined by a guitarist whose gospel music and loud clapping changed the atmosphere once again, this time to something resembling a church revival meeting.
Ramon Acevez, for one, was enjoying it. He said that for the past 2 months, he has been sleeping in a nearby park and treated with the disdain that more fortunate people reserve for the homeless.
“When you’re homeless, nobody cares about you. But look at all these beautiful people here,” he said with a wave of his arm. “These are people who care about the homeless. Now I know what it feels like to have a family, at least for a couple of hours anyway.”
And seated a few tables away, Damacio and Laura Ruiz, their son, Ignacio, 7, and his 3-year-old twin brothers, Sergio and Hector, also seemed to be content.
Damacio Ruiz, 32, a contract factory worker, said that he and his family were especially grateful this year for having been granted amnesty under the immigration act.
Not to be outdone by his parents, Ignacio also let it be known that he, too, knew what he was talking about.
“I know what today is!” he yelled, flashing a grin minus two front teeth. “It’s Turkey Day!”