Many Ways to Feed Body and Soul

Times Staff Writer

On a day traditionally devoted to sharing food with family and friends, thousands of Orange County residents left their homes Thursday to help the county's needy and homeless. They jogged for charity, fed the hungry and even shared Thanksgiving dinner with dogs to raise money for unwanted pets.

Perhaps the day's biggest event was the annual feed put on by Frank Garcia, owner La Casa Garcia in Anaheim. More than 15,000 people shared more than 900 turkeys and loads of potatoes, carrots and string beans cooked and served by more than 1,000 volunteers, including civic leaders such as Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and auxiliary Bishop of Orange Jaime Soto.

The event began 17 years ago, when the restaurant fed 300. Since then, organizers have moved the feast into the parking lot under a huge tent where volunteers serve people who wait in lines half a block long for a turkey dinner.

Last year they served nearly 15,000 people and stopped only because the food ran out, said Garcia's son, Frank Garcia Jr.

"This year, we're expecting close to 17,000 because we extended the dinner by an hour," he said. "It seems that there are a lot more people who are needy this year because we've had a lot more calls from people wanting to know if we're serving dinner."

Karen Smith, 64, said she and her husband wanted to volunteer to do something special and decided to drive to Anaheim from their Laguna Niguel home and help out.

"We had our Thanksgiving the night before with our whole family so some of us could come here and help the needy and those less-fortunate than us," Smith said.

Jose Gonzalez, 42, of Garden Grove, ate a plateful of food next to his wife, Guillermina.

"This event is very important, especially to the Latino community," Gonzalez said in Spanish. "It's good these businesses like Frank's enjoy giving back to the people, especially the poor people. The food is delicious."

In Dana Point, more than 10,000 runners took off as early as 7 a.m. in the 27th Annual Dana Point Turkey Trot.

An excited Lori DeFeo, 44, of San Clemente, ran her first 5K. Her time? "Well, that's not the most important thing," she said. "I just wanted to see if I could do it, and I did."

She ran with her 15-year-old daughter, Lia, her training partner who helped keep her motivated for this year's race.

"We also liked the race because it's for a good cause," DeFeo said.

Organizers hoped to raise $50,000 for the Second Harvest Food Bank, which provides food to about 220,000 people each month through 385 member agencies in the county.

Meanwhile, in Santa Ana, more than 200 homeless men and women enjoyed turkey and ham dinners provided by relatives and co-workers of Leroy and Tara Gary of Cypress.

For months, the couple have solicited donations from PacifiCare co-workers, and, in the last two days, cooked six turkeys, six hams and pots of macaroni and cheese and vegetables before arriving at 6 a.m. to set up on a sidewalk near the county Hall of Administration.

"One of the men who we served food to came up and offered us money. He said, 'This is for your church.' I told him this isn't a church or anything like that," Leroy Gary said. "We just do it because we believe we should."

"The food was good. We appreciate what they're doing," said Gregory Jones, 48, who said he has been homeless for about a year.

However, humans were not the only beneficiaries of Thanksgiving goodwill. In Laguna Beach, dogs shared the holiday with their owners at a fund-raising dinner for a group called RUFF -- Rescuing Unwanted Furry Friends.

About 320 people attended the event at Tivoli Terrace restaurant, where dogs of all breeds -- as well as several cats -- mingled, said group member Jill Ashton. RUFF helps abandoned, sick and injured animals, Ashton said.

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