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A moving feast

MAGNOLIA PARK - Stephanie Willmes hasn’t had much sleep during the

past week.

But Willmes isn’t letting a little weariness slow her down as she

prepares to feed at least 200 needy people at North Hollywood Park on


Thanksgiving Day.

Willmes, 45, a Burbank resident who tends bar at Grady’s on Magnolia

Boulevard, is immersed in a project that began with a chance meeting and

has turned into hours worth of preparation.


About a month ago, North Hollywood resident Jennifer DiGiulio walked

into Grady’s and struck up a conversation with Willmes. DiGiulio said she

wanted to raise money to feed the homeless in North Hollywood Park but

wasn’t sure how to get started.

“I recently lost a brother who was homeless,” DiGiulio said. “It was

my way of making a gesture to the homeless in the area I live.”

DiGiulio’s story struck a chord with Willmes.

“I decided to take the ball in my court,” she said. “I know what it’s


like to be alone during the holidays - it’s depressing and you sit home

and cry.

“I just thought it would be a nice thing to do,” she said.

Though Willmes has played host to large Thanksgiving dinners in the

past, nothing prepared her for what she is trying to accomplish this


“For 15 years, I have been inviting people to my house if they didn’t

have a place to go,” she said. “So, I thought, ‘Why don’t I extend it to


the park?’ ”

With that, Willmes began planning a large Thanksgiving dinner. As

though feeding people wasn’t enough, she also began collecting toys and

clothes for those who attend.

At first, Willmes didn’t say much about her plan. She started off

buying the food and collecting all the clothing on her own.

After getting permission from the Los Angeles park and police

departments, Willmes visited places where the homeless live such as the

Los Angeles River wash where she handed out fliers about the Thanksgiving


“Anybody I saw, I explained to them what I was doing and invited them

to come,” she said.

But the homeless aren’t the only ones invited. Anybody who doesn’t

have a place to celebrate Thanksgiving is welcome, she said.

In the past couple of weeks word began to spread of her endeavor and

people started bringing donations into Grady’s. Some of the bar’s

regulars are among those who have volunteered to help out on


So far, with people from all over the San Fernando Valley helping,

Willmes has collected 16 turkeys, 70 pounds of yams, 50 pounds of string

beans and a recreational vehicle full of clothes and toys. She’s also

received food donations from several Burbank supermarkets and


DiGiulio said watching the effort unfold has been inspiring.

“I can’t find the right words to describe what she’s done,” she said.

“She has made a miracle.”

For Christmas, Willmes plans to do it all again. She said she hoped

her actions encourage others to help the poor. “There are a lot of

people with money who don’t lift a finger to help,” she said. “It’s a

shame that it takes a poor person like me and my friends to do something

for the needy.”