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For Needy in O.C., a Chance for a Hot Meal : Thanksgiving: Volunteers say government aid cutbacks mean tens of thousands will seek turkey dinners.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Jim Palmer, it was the kind of day when he had 500 turkeys defrosting in his parking lot.

In years past, Palmer, the executive director of Orange County Rescue Mission in Santa Ana, usually supervised the preparation of a couple thousand meals to hand out to the needy on Thanksgiving. But this year, Palmer is overseeing the distribution of an estimated 19,000 meals, nearly five times the number the Rescue Mission gave out last year.

“We had to put the turkeys in the parking lot for a while,” Palmer said Wednesday. “We just don’t have room to defrost that many turkeys.”

Like hundreds of other volunteers across Orange County, Palmer and Anaheim restaurateur Frank Garcia spent the day scrambling to make sure thousands of people who otherwise would go without can enjoy a holiday meal today. Palmer and Garcia are expecting more people than ever because of chronic shortages in government funding.

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“I was getting really scared this year,” said Garcia, whose Anaheim restaurant, La Casa Garcia, fed 10,000 last year and expects 15,000 today. “Some of the people who used to give out the meals are not doing it anymore. Well, where are these people going to go?”

Even groups that deliver food baskets on Thanksgiving Day said their numbers are on the rise. St. Vincent de Paul, a church group in Orange, is sending meals to an additional 500 to 1,000 families, raising the overall total to about 3,000 this year. Last year, they sent out 2,000 meals.

“It’s a substantial increase,” said Scott Mather, the group’s director of development. “These are hard times for a lot of people.”

Mather said one of the meals will go to an especially needy family in Tustin. There, a pregnant single mother of two is trying to scrape by on food stamps and $650 a month in welfare. The mother used to receive money from her father to help pay the $720 monthly rent, but he recently lost his job.

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“It used to be we could patch things up by paying a light bill or providing a meal,” Mather said. “Now, it’s things like a $1,000 credit bill, and we just can’t handle it all.”

In Santa Ana, Palmer said he realized months ago the demand for Thanksgiving Day meals would jump dramatically this year, based on increased requests for blankets, clothes and medical assistance.

“We’ve known for a while the number of working poor had increased quite a bit this year,” said Palmer, 31, who has headed the Christian organization for nearly four years.

As with other organizations girding for the Thanksgiving holiday, La Casa Garcia relied on an army of volunteers and extensive food donations from across Orange County. On Wednesday, hundreds of kitchen helpers at the Anaheim restaurant began preparing the 500 turkeys, 350 gallons of stuffing and two tons of potatoes that would feed the masses from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.

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“Everybody pushes a piece of the rock and we make it go,” Garcia said. “Between the people of Orange County, we can make it together.”

Late Wednesday night, the volunteers began toting over the turkeys to be cooked in the kitchen at the nearby Anaheim Hilton and Towers, because Garcia’s restaurant could not accommodate the gigantic culinary task. There, the turkeys would be roasted 80 at a time in two huge rotating ovens.

“Thanksgiving is a time when neighbors get together,” said Patrick Hynes, a hotel spokesman. “This is our way of helping those who are less fortunate.”

This Thanksgiving marks the eighth year that Garcia, 51, has played host at a community banquet. He said now he has the entire operation down to a science--even the massive cleanup.

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“That only takes about an hour and a half,” Garcia said. “By 7 p.m., it will look like nothing happened.”

* WHERE TO FIND FREE EATS: A list of places offering Thanksgiving meals. A55

* HOLIDAY JAMS: O.C. airport, freeways feel the Thanksgiving crush. B3

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Feeding the Hungry

La Casa Garcia expects to feed 15,000 in Anaheim, and the Orange County Rescue Mission will distribute 19,000 meals. Here’s what’s needed:

1,000 turkeys

4,800 pounds of potatoes

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750 gallons of gravy

520 pounds of butter

2,000 cans of green beans

1,500 cans of corn

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2,500 cans of sweet potatoes

300 bushels of fruit

2,500 pies

Researched by MARTIN MILLER / Los Angeles Times

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Growing Need

The number of Thanksgiving meals distributed by Orange County Rescue Mission and La Casa Garcia has quintupled since 1991:

*--*

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Rescue La Casa Mission Garcia 1991 450 6,000 1995* 19,000 15,000

*--*

* Projected

Sources: Orange County Rescue Mission, La Casa Garcia

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Researched by MARTIN MILLER / Los Angeles Times

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Free Meals Offered

Free Thanksgiving dinners will be served at a number of places in Orange County today. Many still are in need of food donations and volunteers. Here are some of the locations:

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* Bluebird Park, Bluebird Canyon Drive and Cress Street, Laguna Beach. Noon. (714) 740-1108.

* Bob’s Burgers, 2790 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim. 2 to 5 p.m. (714) 527-3983.

* Hard Rock Cafe, 451 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach. 10:30 a.m. and noon. (714) 538-0513.

* Home Front Church, 808 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton. 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (714) 680-0401.

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* La Casa Garcia Restaurant, 531 W. Chapman Ave., Anaheim. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (714) 740-1108.

* Orange County Rescue Mission, 1901 W. Walnut St., Santa Ana. 11 a.m. (714) 285-2840.

* Placentia Presbyterian Church, 849 N. Bradford Ave. 6 p.m. (714) 528-0725.

* Ragamuffins Restaurant, 1527 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente. Noon to 6 p.m. (714) 492-3255.

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* Rea Community Center, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa. 1 to 4 p.m. (714) 548-8861.

* Southwest Community Center, 1601 W. 2nd St., Santa Ana. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (714) 547-4073.

* Westminster Mall, 1025 Westminster Mall. Noon to 2 p.m. (714) 897-3221.

Source: Individual establishments

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Researched by MIMI KO CRUZ / For The Times


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