From the Archives: Depression-era Thanksgiving in Los Angeles


Each Thanksgiving, local charities provide free turkey dinners to thousands of people. Last year, in a Nov. 23 L.A. Now blog post, Georgia Berkovich, Midnight Mission director of public affairs, was quoted as saying, “We haven’t seen numbers like this since the Great Depression.”

During the Depression, the Los Angeles Times reported on 1935’s Thanksgiving Day meals:

Bounteous Los Angeles saw to it yesterday that the unfortunates within her gates had reason to be thankful for at least one plate of hot, steaming turkey fit for a king.

At Los Angeles General Hospital, scores of children tasted turkey for the first time in their lives, Karma Beck, one of the supervisors in the children’s ward, said.

Everyone had either a drumstick or a wishbone. Julius Having, the steward, commandeered for them those pieces so dear to youngsters, out of the 2,600 pounds of turkey roasted in the kitchen of this world’s largest hospital.

The remainder of the 2,388 patients who were able to partake of a good dinner got the other parts of the turkeys but the 473 children got first choice. Pumpkin pie was on the plate for all able patients.

Largest of the free eating places provided was the Midnight Mission, which fed about 2,000 hungry men at its headquarters, 396 South Los Angeles Street and about 500 more at its American House, 1250 North Main Street.

Each man got a good portion of the 700 pounds of turkey, 800 pounds of veal, 1,200 pounds of potatoes and other trimmings, topped off with thirty-five gallons of ice cream….

Today, in addition to the Thanksgiving dinner, the Midnight Mission serves meals seven days a week. Nearly 1 million meals are served each year.

Nov. 28, 1935: Men enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)
Nov. 28, 1935: Gordon Douglas, left, and Rupert Ortego are served Thanksgiving dinner by nurse Dorothy Barkell at General Hospital.
(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)
Nov. 28, 1935: Mary Louise Varela has Thanksgiving dinner in her bed at General Hospital. She eats her pumpkin pie first.
(Los Angeles Times)

Below, I’ve added two additional images from Thanksgiving Day 1936.

Nov. 26, 1936: Bob Boyd and Chef George Arnold in a kitchen cutting beef for Thanksgiving dinner at the Union Rescue Mission.
(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)
Nov. 26, 1936: Men line up outside Union Rescue Mission for Thanksgiving meal.
(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)

See more from the Los Angeles Times archives here