More than just one turkey day

Times Staff Writer

A three-day movable feast called Thanksgiving dinner made a stop Wednesday on 5th Street in downtown Los Angeles. And those doing the stuffing were naturally talking turkey.

“I’m going to be turkeyed out by Thanksgiving Day,” predicted Willie Stinson, 54, who has been living on the streets for three months since coming from Michigan. “I think I’ll just spend the day in church.”

Stinson was one of about 3,000 who dined on traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie served on long rows of tables set up on the street in front of the Los Angeles Mission.

Free Thanksgiving dinners for the needy have been an annual event in Los Angeles since 1891, when the Union Rescue Mission began serving them. For nearly a century, though, the holiday meal was dished up on Thanksgiving Day itself.


That began changing two decades ago when skid row’s population of the homeless and homeless service providers began to swell. About that time the simple Thanksgiving meal began to outgrow Thanksgiving.

It became a celebrity-filled event that drew paparazzi, politicians and jazz musicians. They provided entertainment and even foot massages to those who lined up to eat.

This year some organizations -- including Para Los Ninos -- began serving Thanksgiving meals Tuesday to get a jump on the holiday.

In South Los Angeles, actor Mark Wahlberg’s youth foundation and some of his show business friends helped serve dinner Wednesday to about 700 families at A Place Called Home.

At the same time, the Walt Disney Co. joined with the Salvation Army and studio officials and actors to serve a Thanksgiving meal to the needy in Hollywood.

Back on skid row, Los Angeles Mission spokeswoman Ayana Petteway said the nonprofit organization “always serves dinner on the eve of the event because we don’t want to compete with other Thanksgiving meals. We want people to enjoy as many Thanksgiving meals as possible.”

On Wednesday, actor Kirk Douglas and wife Anne stood next to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as they dished out potatoes, beans and turkey drumsticks, respectively.

A few steps away, film producer Tony Thomopoulos ladled out gravy, and actress Minnie Driver placed dinner rolls on plates.


“The notion of giving thanks should be something done on a daily basis,” said Driver, who planned to observe Thanksgiving with friends today in Malibu. “If this dinner was to have been held tomorrow I’d have come here tomorrow to help.”

Farther down the food line, Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke was contributing sealed pats of butter. She said she was planning a traditional Thanksgiving meal for today with family, “except without mashed potatoes. We’ll be having sweet potatoes.”

Nearby, Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry was scooping cranberry sauce. She planned to help at Thanksgiving dinner at the New Image Emergency Shelter before having her own small family dinner today.

Villaraigosa was the busiest. On Tuesday morning he helped at a turkey dinner giveaway at the Jackson Limousine Service yard in South Los Angeles. Tuesday night he participated in the Para Los Ninos Thanksgiving dinner at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.


Wednesday night, he was scheduled to attend the Disney-Salvation Army Thanksgiving dinner at the Hollywood Palladium. This morning he planned to help at the Downtown Women’s Center Thanksgiving event, the Fred Jordan Mission dinner and the Midnight Mission Thanksgiving meal.

Outside the Fred Jordan Mission, Father Maurice “Dollar Bill” Chase will hand out the 15,000 $1 bills that donations from the families of Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Henry Mancini helped fund.

This afternoon Villaraigosa planned to attend a 20-member family dinner at the home of his brother, Rob Delgado.

“I’ll eat turkey, of course,” the mayor said, acknowledging that the bird has been on his luncheon and dinner menus for three days now.


One of those serving Wednesday’s 5th Street crowd, actor Kevin Nealon of “Saturday Night Live” fame, won’t be, however.

“We’ll be having tofurkey sandwiches for Thanksgiving,” he said as he and his actress wife, Susan Yeagley, toted paper plates heaped with turkey and the trimmings to diners sitting at tables in the middle of the Street. Tofurkey is a meatless, faux turkey dish made from tofu that is molded into a turkey shape, basted, baked and served with herb stuffing. Vegetarians are thankful for it on a day like today.

“Maybe next year they’ll serve tofurkey here at the mission,” Nealon said.

Probably not, said mission President Herb Smith, whose people pumped out 2,000 pounds of roast turkey drumsticks for Wednesday’s meal.


The 1,500 who obtain meals from the mission on a daily basis will likely have the opportunity to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal with the leftovers.

“We’ll probably be serving turkey again” today, he said. “And hamburgers for people tired of turkey.”