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L.A. Chargers’ Derwin James gives thanks to the Boys & Girls Club

L.A. Chargers football star Derwin James joins fellow volunteers at a Thanksgiving dinner.
Los Angeles Chargers football star Derwin James joins fellow volunteers in the plate-serve line at the traditional Thanksgiving dinner and turkey giveaway at the Santa Ana Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

For Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James, the Thanksgiving holiday is all about gratitude.

“I remember growing up, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday,” said James. “Because it reminds me of being thankful and the humbleness and the food and bringing people together.”

On Nov. 23, the NFL player served turkey and mashed potatoes to Orange County families at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana as a part of the organization’s annual “Thanksgiving at the Club” event.

Los Angeles Chargers football star Derwin James joins fellow volunteers.
Los Angeles Chargers football star Derwin James shares a laugh with guests as he joins fellow volunteers on the serve line.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

James said he was drawn to serve because of his own special connection to the Boys & Girls Club.

“I was the guy that always believed in the Boys & Girls Club, I attended the Boys & Girls Club,” said James. “It was a lot of fun, and I wanted to come out today and show some love and support.”

James was on the injured list in 2019 and 2020, first with a fractured foot and then a torn meniscus, but the strong safety has become a leader in the Chargers defense. James said it is important to be a leader off the field too.

“I feel like you are never too big or too busy to get out and help people and show that you care,” James said. “That is what we need to do as athletes, especially in our position.”

Orange County has been in a vulnerable position lately, with an increase in food insecurity since COVID-19 hit. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast, which serves Costa Mesa, Irvine, Newport Beach, Orange and Santa Ana, has worked to meet the growing demand for consistent meals through various food donation events.

Volunteers fill plates at the Thanksgiving dinner at the Santa Ana Boys & Girls Club.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The “Thanksgiving at the Club” event serves a family-style Thanksgiving dinner that includes turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, apple cider and pumpkin pie to low-income families and has become a valued tradition for the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana.

“Pre-pandemic we would normally serve about 700 people for a Thanksgiving meal,” said Kirstle Duran, chief operations officer. “So anywhere from 300 to 400 families coming through. There is normally double the tables in this space.”

Safety and social distancing is still a high priority, and the club hosted a limited number of families served over multiple shifts to ensure their safety.

“This year we have reached our capacity, so we have 15 tables per shift and we are serving 60 families a sit down meal,” said Duran.

The Boys & Girls Club also provided a complete take-home Thanksgiving dinner for those families who are not able to dine in due to the limited capacity of the in-person dinner.

Frozen turkeys await pick-up at the Santa Ana Boys and Girl's Club on Tuesday.
Frozen turkeys await pick-up during the Thanksgiving dinner and turkey giveaway.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“Across the street, we have 100 families coming through for a drive-by pick-up of a Thanksgiving meal in a box,” Duran said.

The first dinner service began at 4 p.m., followed by a second service at 5, a third at 6:30 and final dinner served at 7:30 p.m.

“We try to keep it very intimate and not have it feel like a food kitchen kind of concept, but more like they are coming to dinner as a family,” Duran said.

Families had a photo booth opportunity upon arrival, with one brave little flag football player opting for a photo with James.

The Chavez-Hernandez family pauses for a photo at the Santa Ana Boys and Girl's Club on Tuesday.
The Chavez-Hernandez family pauses for a family photo during the annual traditional Thanksgiving dinner and turkey giveaway at the Santa Ana Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Guests were shown to their table by volunteers, who served the food to the families at tables festively decorated with Fall flower arrangements.

Duran said she was happy to see this favored tradition return in person, after the club skipped in-person dining last year due to COVID-19.

“We have always brought in Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, corn and all the fixings, so our families can come in and have a dine-in experience,” said Duran.

A youngster is served a traditional Thanksgiving meal at the Santa Ana Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday.
A youngster is served a traditional Thanksgiving meal during the annual Thanksgiving meal and turkey giveaway at the Santa Ana Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The dish James is most looking forward to on the Thanksgiving table?

“Macaroni and cheese,” said James, “with extra cheese.”

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