The Thankful Dish It Out Too

Times Staff Writer

Southern Californians on Thursday celebrated Thanksgiving in typical free-form fashion -- running in "turkey trots" for charity in Long Beach and Dana Point, enjoying jokes and free food at a Hollywood comedy club and talking politics over apple pie in Valley Village.

They took in large amounts of food, but they dished it out too. Thousands of volunteers served plates of sliced turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and yams to needy families, war veterans, the elderly and the homeless.

In Hollywood, nearly 2,600 people showed up at the Laugh Factory, which has sponsored an annual free Thanksgiving feast for the community since 1979. Comedy club owner Jamie Masada, who ordered more than 100 turkeys for Thursday's event, said he started the tradition because he had no family with whom to share the holidays when he moved to Los Angeles from Iran.

"A lot of people come here with big hearts and no money," he said.

The dinner was initially geared toward comics, who often move to Hollywood with dreams of making it big. Now, he said, it's open to everyone. Volunteer comics serve up jokes while everyone else chows down.

"It's great that we're in a community like this," said Marcela Takayana, who brought her husband, Mike, and daughter Monique, 9. "We're fortunate to live in such a kind city when times are tough."

The family is struggling to pay the bills while also caring for Takayana's disabled brother and elderly mother. Monique, who ate some apple pie, said she was excited to be allowed inside a comedy club, a privilege usually reserved for adults.

But most of all, she said: "I'm thankful for having a good family."

"Thanksgiving, to me, means getting together and eating a feast. I'm lucky to be here."

In the San Fernando Valley, more than 400 people gathered at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village for a free dinner that has been held on Thanksgiving for the last three years.

Organizers ordered 500 pounds of turkey and more than 600 rolls.

Bernard S. Cohen, 75, of Sherman Oaks, a member of the Jewish War Veterans, sat at an outdoor table across from a 55-year-old homeless man named J.D. Although the two did not know each other, and discovered they differed on political views, they became friends.

Cohen, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, began arguing in support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, saying it was helping the Iraqis.

But J.D., a veteran of the Vietnam War who did not give his last name, said he believed U.S. motives in Iraq were selfish and political, rather than humanitarian.

They calmly heard each other's sides, interjecting an occasional "good point" or "I agree."

Then they discovered they both used to work for the same company.

"Hey, I like talking to you, J.D.," Cohen said.

"We have a lot more in common than I thought," J.D. said, adding: "There's a lot to be thankful for, and I'm thankful to be here."

Cohen said he was thankful that his grandparents immigrated to America in the early 1900s. "I'm in a free country, born and raised in a free country. There are so many different cultures here. You sit across from someone and you don't even know how much you have in common."

In Canoga Park, 1,000 working-class people, including cleaners, cooks and laborers, gathered at the Guadalupe Community Center to eat turkey, string beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy while a magician and a clown entertained them.

In Long Beach, 850 people showed up to donate food such as rice, beans and macaroni and cheese to needy families.

Some ran a 5K to 10K "turkey trot" to raise money for abused women, the homeless and other causes.

More than 10,000 runners in Dana Point took part in another "turkey trot," starting as early as 7 a.m. Organizers hoped to raise about $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.

In Orange County, 15,000 people turned out for the annual dinner put on by Frank Garcia, owner of La Casa Garcia in Anaheim. They ate more than 900 turkey dinners cooked and served by more than 1,000 volunteers, including Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Anaheim) and Auxiliary Bishop of Orange Jaime Soto.

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

"This event is very important, especially to the Latino community," said Jose Gonzalez of Garden Grove as he sat with his wife, Guillermina.

"It's good these businesses like Frank's enjoy giving back to the people, especially the poor people. The food is delicious."

Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein and David Reyes contributed to this report.

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