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Thousands of Needy Gather for Giveaway on Skid Row

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The promise of a sack of Christmas cheer--one chicken, a dozen corn tortillas, three small toys and one blanket--drew thousands of families to the despairing streets of Los Angeles’ Skid Row on Saturday.

A thick, daylong line of an estimated 20,000 men, women and sleepy-eyed children wrapped around three city blocks, beginning at the Fred Jordan Mission. The mission’s annual holiday giveaway attracted needy families from inner-city neighborhoods and hundreds of volunteers from the suburbs.

Eight blocks were cordoned off around 5th Street and Towne Avenue to accommodate the crush of people. Some in the five-hour line said they were willing to brave the gritty streets for what one woman described as her “only possibility” for a Christmas dinner.

Rosario Hernandez, who stood at the end of the line rocking her 1-year-old son, said she was frightened by the winos passed out on the sidewalk and sickened by the gutter stench, but wanted food to make her husband arroz con pollo on Christmas Eve.

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“I don’t have any other chance for Christmas food but in this line,” said Hernandez, 30, whose husband works only sporadically. “This mission has been good to me before. All these people surprise me, but I still want to wait in line.”

Willie Jordan, director of the mission and wife of the founder, the late Rev. Fred Jordan, said organizers had braced themselves for one of the largest turnouts in years because of the deepening recession. They were prepared to aid up to 30,000, with help from corporate and private donors.

“It’s sad to think that a family has to be reduced to coming to Skid Row for a few bags of food,” Jordan said. “Most of the people don’t even live near the area, but they hear about it and come.”

Maria Allen, 21, got word of the giveaway on a Christian television station. At 6 a.m. she boarded a bus from South Los Angeles to ensure that she would be given blankets for her children. While waiting, she was moved by the grim sights around her.

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“I’m poor, but I really feel sorry for the people around here,” she said. “They’re under boxes. We don’t have money, but at least we’re not in a box.”

Few could have been so eager for a gift as 8-year-old David, who shook his head “no” when asked his last name. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had to wake up at 2 a.m. to stand in line for food and a Christmas toy.

“My mom told me to come early with her friend and save a place,” David said. By 10:30 a.m. he stood in a toy line beneath a sign reading “BOY 7-8,” and a yellow plastic bag was placed in his hands containing Christmas toys.

His mother shouted for him to meet her and his older brother in the final food line. Each carrying a plastic sack, the trio disappeared into the crowd that had come to Skid Row for a holiday gift.

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